A volunteer sprays disinfectant in a quake victim shelter in MIanyang.
HOW survivors are managed, rather than how the dead are handled, determines whether epidemics break out in the wake of major natural disasters, according to Hans Troedsson, China's World Health Organization representative.
Caring for the dead is not a primary health responsibility in those quake-hit areas of Sichuan, he said, refuting the misconception that corpses are a major source of disease.
The Ministry of Health required that corpses should be covered with lime and areas around them sprayed with disinfectant.
Troedsson said these operations would take staff away from caring for survivors. But he added that the government's overall response to the health and practical challenges had been appropriate.
Taboos and discomforts
However, Feng Zijian, an expert at the Chinese Center of Disease Prevention and Control, disagreed. Feng said although Troedsson is right in theory, he fails to consider taboos relating to dead bodies and such practical discomforts as the stench of rotting flesh.
"The measures taken also protect the health and feelings of workers involved in the disposal of bodies," Feng said.
According to Troedsson, the main needs now are ensuring the supply of safe food and drinking water and trying to restore good sanitation.
Feng said the earthquake had caused mass displacement, overcrowding, little access to drinkable water and inadequate hygiene in toilets and food preparation areas.
These conditions, he said, might cause the transmission of waterborne and food-borne diseases, of which there is a risk of an outbreak.
The Ministry had outlined an epidemic control and response plan including safe water and food distribution methods.