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Sri Lanka prepares for flood-borne diseases

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is hospitalizing pregnant women and young children to shield them from waterborne diseases in districts where floods have brought sewage into the streets, a health official said Thursday.

Days of heavy rain have triggered widespread floods and mudslides, mainly in the island’s Eastern Province. Five more deaths were reported Thursday, bringing the toll to 23, Pradeep Kodippili of the Disaster Management Center said. One person was reported missing and 36 others injured.

Amid the floods, sewage lines and tanks have overflowed in many villages, and Health Ministry spokesman Dharma Wanninayake said officials are concerned about diseases like typhoid and diarrhea.

He said doctors working in affected areas have been asked to hospitalize women who are nearly nine months pregnant and children under 5 years old.

The measure will help slow infection rates and allow the most vulnerable to be treated quickly, he said.

More than a million people have been affected by the rains, and 325,000 have been forced from their homes. Many villages in Eastern Province have been inundated, with some cut off from supplies.

Nine villages in the eastern Trincomalee district are isolated with only sea access, said N. Selvanayagam, a local government official. Food and medical supplies are running low in those areas, leaving tens of thousands of people in need, said Mohammad Jihad, a community leader.

Wanninayake said special teams of doctors and health inspectors have been dispatched to work in camps housing the displaced people and mobile clinics set up.

The government has deployed 28,000 armed forces and police personnel with boats and helicopters to help with rescue and relief for affected people.

The United Nations and other aid agencies have stepped in to provide food, sleeping mats, water tanks, purification tablets and hygiene kits.

Badly hit Eastern Province has been recovering from a quarter century of violence during a civil war fought by Tamil Tigers seeking a separate state for minority Tamils. Government troops defeated the rebels in 2009.

“In recent years these communities have suffered major blows; many of them have been caught up in years of conflict, in the wake of the 2004 tsunami and now these floods,” U.N. Children’s Fund Sri Lanka Representative Reza Hossaini said in a statement.

“Many families were only just returning home after years of displacement … now they all face this latest severe setback.”

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