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Following Quake, China Responds to Medical Challenges

Some 130,000 Chinese troops and 45,000 health workers dispatched to stricken region to help injured

MONDAY, June 2 (HealthDay News) -- The massive earthquake in southwestern China on May 12 left more than 62,000 people dead, over 23,000 missing and an estimated 360,000 injured survivors, creating a multitude of medical challenges, according to an article in the May 31 issue of The Lancet.

Jonathan Watts reports that the Chinese government has responded to the emergency swiftly and been unusually forthcoming about statistics. While the final death toll is not yet calculated, some 23,775 people remain missing as of the end of May. Hospitals have treated 59,394 people, of whom about half were discharged as of May 21, the Ministry of Health reports.

Schoolchildren accounted for an unusually large number of victims, raising controversial questions about the low quality of school building construction. And while the Chinese government's quick response to the disaster has won praise, it must maintain its momentum in order to avoid secondary health problems such as widespread infection and social instability. So far, outbreaks of malaria and other contagious diseases have not materialized, but the World Health Organization has cautioned that access to clean water, sanitation and food should be priorities.

"The psychological damage is harder to quantify," Watts writes. "About 5 percent might need one-to-one counseling." Reconstruction, he notes, is expected to take at least three years. Until then and beyond, millions of lives will be disrupted.

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