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WHO warns of tsunami trauma

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(CNN) -- The World Health Organization has said that nearly all the people affected by the tsunami that hit southern Asia last month will suffer some form of psychosocial trauma.

The agency said it needs $67 million to help carry out its work over the next six months.

"The mental anguish of those who narrowly escaped the tsunami or lost close relatives is made far worse because many of them have lost their homes, their jobs and their possessions," said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for South-East Asia, in a written statement.

"These people urgently need support."

"Many can cope and will gradually come to terms with what has happened. But many others will either sit motionless or cry for hours on end. If support is not urgently provided, the long-term effect on these populations could be terrible."

The situation is complicated by a shortage of workers trained in mental health care and counseling, the WHO statement said.

Prior to the disaster, 150 people worked at the mental health hospital in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, the statement added.

Just one psychiatrist, three counselors and six nurses remain, it said.

"We must ensure that this is not trivialized by permitting any untrained person to do counseling, but is done by health workers who have been trained under WHO guidelines," said Dr. Vijay Chandra, WHO regional mental health adviser.

Community workers are preparing to undertake such efforts, with training focused on role playing, empathizing with victims and providing support and encouragement, the agency said.

"It would be inappropriate to fly in numerous psychiatrists to provide support," Chandra said.

"Health workers from the affected communities will be much more aware of what the victims are now going through. As such, they are in a position to provide much more empathic support than any external professional could."

Under normal circumstances, communities' social support systems -- such as prayers and rituals -- help individuals cope.

"However," he said, "in the unique circumstances of the present disaster, we must address the needs of people who have not only lost loved ones, homes, means of earning, but their entire neighborhood and with it their lives' context, which essentially defines every individual.

"The best method of dealing with this would be to find people in neighboring villages or communities, people of similar cultural background who understand the cultural norms, to help them."

In one province in Thailand, authorities are rotating 80 mental health workers each week in hard-hit communities.

"Some of these people are literally suffering a second tsunami," said Aphaluck Bhatiasevi of WHO in Thailand.

"Today, we saw a son who was extremely distressed at the guilt he feels for not having been able to save his father from the force of the tsunami. Such people urgently need a support system to help them cope with this traumatic experience."

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