AFTER first denying media reports warning of a cholera outbreak in the city, the Sindh government has suddenly — and thankfully — come to its senses and instructed major hospitals in Karachi to set up special wards for patients suspected of having cholera or diagnosed with it. While about 150 cases had been reported from three districts of Karachi until a day ago, it is believed that the actual number is much higher. Last week, health experts had warned that the city was about to face one of “the worst outbreaks” of cholera in recent years. According to them, hundreds of patients — adults and children — were reporting cholera symptoms and approaching healthcare facilities. The director of the largest children’s hospital in Sindh, the National Institute of Child Health, stated that the health facility was receiving at least 10 to 15 cases of cholera every day, besides a large number of cases of acute watery diarrhoea. Though diarrhoea remains endemic in the country, killing some 53,300 children under the age of five years ever year, the sudden surge in cholera cases is being reported for a couple of months now.
The ongoing heatwave, poor sanitation, environmental pollution and the non-availability of clean drinking water are major factors contributing to the spread of cholera in the city. Immediate awareness campaigns are required to educate the public about food safety and how to cope with the first signs of the illness, while strengthening disease surveillance and carrying out extensive testing of patients with symptoms to gauge the extent of the outbreak. The outbreak must be contained quickly, because it will be harder to stop if it spreads to the rural areas. The Ogawa strain is apparently dominating the cases emerging in Karachi. It is known to spread in populations very quickly. Though cholera and diarrhoea have similar symptoms, the former can kill within hours if left untreated. The health authorities must alert the public about its dangers and act quickly to ensure that rapid rehydration treatment is easily available.
Published in Dawn, May 1st, 2022