As infectious disease experts around the world assess the impact of last month's tsunami on the current and future health of the people in the devastated region, the lessons of the past, particularly those involving women, are front and center. Considering its death toll, the cyclone of 1970 that hit Bangladesh is one of the worst natural disasters in history. Different sources report different numbers, but 300,000 to 500,000 people died in the resultant floods and waves that traveled inland from the sea. A 1972 article appearing in The Lancet (1:1029-36) reported that women across all age groups faired far worse than men in terms of postcyclone mortality.

According to Scott Dowell, a Bangkok-based epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high postdisaster female mortality has been noted through the years. "I can think back to my own experience in Zaire [during] the Rwandan refugee crisis. About...

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