Working together to protect health after Cyclone Gita
26 February 2018 – The World Health Organization (WHO) is working with governments and partners to protect people's health in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Gita, a Category 4 storm with winds of more than 275 kilometres per hour that tore through the Pacific in early February.
As the country most affected by the cyclone, Tonga is the focus of WHO's support. From 12 to 13 February, the storm ravaged the main island of Tongatapu and nearby 'Eua. The two islands are home to three-quarters of the country's 107 000 people.
The storm caused widespread flooding and damaged some 1600 houses. All seven community health centres on Tongatapu lost electricity and most lost access to safe water; connections which have since largely been restored.
"Tonga definitely took a beating…. Many parts of the country are still flooded," said Dr Yutaro Setoya, from the WHO Country Liaison Office in Tonga. Flooding carries major health risks, including contamination of drinking water and increases in dengue and other vector-borne diseases because "mosquitoes will breed in stagnant water."
WHO is supporting the Ministry of Health to control mosquito-borne diseases, strengthen disease surveillance, provide mental health services and coordinate the joint response of health, nutrition, water and sanitation partners. The Organization has contributed medicines and supplies, including 128 000 water purification tablets, 200 jerry cans, 400 water quality testing kits and rapid diagnostic tests for dengue and rotavirus.
WHO is also supporting information-sharing with communities. Key health protection tips, including how to prevent dengue and how to make water safe before drinking, are being communicated via text messages and other channels.
Other partners working closely with WHO and the Ministry of Health in Tonga include Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Oxfam New Zealand, the Tonga Red Cross, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund and local faith-based organizations. Working together under the Pacific Humanitarian Team, the group is focusing on delivering health, water and sanitation services for 80 000 people affected by the Cyclone.
WHO is also working in Samoa with the Ministry of Health and has delivered emergency supplies, including rapid diagnostic tests, vector control equipment and enough water purification tablets to provide 2500 families safe drinking water for 14 days.