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Gov't steps up efforts to prevent outbreak of infectious diseases in rain-ravaged areas

People pile up sandbags against a river overflowing into a residential area, where they say water levels are higher than the day before, in Hiroshima's Aki Ward, on July 9, 2018. (Mainichi)

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare on July 12 dispatched a team of experts to Okayama Prefecture to offer health support for victims of the recent large-scale disasters, as the region is one of the areas hit hardest by the latest record downpours, flooding and mudslides.

The National Police Agency announced on July 12 that the death toll had reached 200. Meanwhile, severe heat is creating hygienic challenges in affected regions.

The dispatched unit, called a disaster health emergency assistance team, or DHEAT, was deployed to a disaster area for the first time since the ministry started its operation in March this year. The members will focus on finding out what kind of human and material resources are necessary and make arrangements for their supply in a bid to prevent disaster-related deaths such as fatalities due to ailments including economy class syndrome, which can result from long-term stays at evacuation facilities.

DHEAT consists of about five experts including a doctor, a public health nurse and a registered dietitian who received training at the ministry, and it is deployed to healthcare facilities at disaster-hit municipalities for several weeks to several months, switching members as needed.

The DHEAT team in Okayama was sent from Nagasaki Prefecture in southern Japan based on a request from the prefectural government and an instruction from the health ministry. The team is scheduled to work for about three weeks out of a prefectural public health center in the city of Kurashiki in Okayama Prefecture, changing its members every week.

Yoko So, the 47-year-old team leader and the head of a public health center in Nagasaki Prefecture, told reporters that she and her team will first gather information about the damage sustained by medical institutions as well as the health status of people staying at evacuation centers. "We will analyze what manpower is necessary at which location, and try to help solve problems," said So.

Among measures to be taken by the DHEAT team include offering advice on public health such as tips to prevent infectious diseases or food poisoning.

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Yamada, Osaka City News Department, and Kazuhiko Kobayashi, Kurashiki Local Bureau)

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