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Curtin professor lends expertise in typhoon aid

News story

When the winds travelling at over 252 kilometres per hour hit the Philippines on 8 November 2013, more than 3,000 people died.

An image of Associate Professor Linda Selvey
Associate Professor Linda Selvey

The information comes from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its Global Outreach Alert and Response Network (GOARN) immediately decided on Curtin University’s Associate Professor Linda Selvey as the best candidate for a month long appointment in Manila to help the Philippine Department of Health with disease prevention.

Curtin University has been a member of the GOARN since 2000 and Professor Selvey is an infectious disease expert. This is not the first time Professor Selvey has assisted with international disease prevention, having worked for WHO in the eradication of Polio in India and Nepal, as well as previously working in the Philippines monitoring rates of pneumonia for a vaccination trial in 1996.

Professor Selvey said Public Health played a vital role in long term disease surveillance and health support for the people affected by the disaster.

“There are always the immediate health needs which relate to injury but the public health response can last for years,” she said.

“From a public health perspective, the biggest concern will be the diarrhoea and cholera diseases, particularly amongst young children, who are susceptible to ill effects of that.”

The WHO reports that over three million people are displaced, out of which over 400,000 are now located in 1,595 evacuation centres and that over 18,000 are injured. These high numbers cause potential health risks.

“Because of the crowded conditions, vaccine-preventable diseases like measles are also an issue because the vaccination rate isn’t high,” she said.

“We will be looking for trends and any sudden changes that might represent an infectious disease outbreak, so that workers move quickly on the ground to reduce the spread.”

Head of the School of Public Health at Curtin Professor Bruce Maycock said Professor Selvey’s appointment reflected the highly practical nature of the expertise that existed in the school.

“To have Linda chosen by the WHO, as one of only a handful of Australians to assist the Phillipines government to fight infectious diseases, is a clear example of this,” he said.

Professor Selvey follows in the footsteps of the late professor Aileen Plant, a leading epidemiologist from Curtin who was awarded the People’s Medal of Health by the Vietnamese government for her work leading the WHO’s SARS team in Vietnam.

“As neighbours we need to work together to prepare for and respond to such emergencies,” Professor Selvey said.

“I feel like it’s a privilege to go, I just hope I can make a difference.”

For further information view the World Health Organisation’s statistics on Typhoon Haiyan.