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May 19, 2008 (AFP)‚ Nearly 80 Asian medics arrived in Burma on Saturday to help with disaster relief efforts after the devastating cyclone two weeks ago, state media said.
India sent 47 medics and relief experts with 15 tonnes of medicine, while Thailand sent 30 medics and Red Cross members with 10.5 tonnes of medical supplies, according to state television.
Burma’s decision to allow them in is one of the first significant movements of foreign aid workers into the disaster zone, two weeks after the cyclone left nearly 78,000 people dead and 56,000 missing.
But Doctors Without Borders country director Frank Smithuis said it was difficult to gauge how the Asian medics could assist the aid effort.
"It’s good that the authorities are accepting help from outside but what we also need are people, not doctors, with specialist expertise in water and sanitation, and emergency experts," he told AFP.
The military regime has been heavily criticised for a slow-moving relief effort after Cyclone Nargis, which hit the country on 2-3 May.
The International Rescue Committee’s emergency health coordinator Tahlil Ahmed, waiting in Bangkok for a visa to enter Burma, said the medics needed to have full access to the worst-hit delta region.
At present, the doctors have only been given permission to work in the outskirts of Rangoon.
"An influx of doctors is sorely needed," Ahmed told AFP. "But their impact will be determined by their level of access to people in need and their ability to set up significant public health interventions."
According to the government’s official figures, nearly 134,000 people are dead or missing.