LAHORE: The diarrhoea outbreak seems to have hit the children in the provincial capital hard as the Communicable Disease Control (CDC) Department Punjab has officially reported that over 2,000 children have been hospitalised with the condition in Lahore since April 1.

The department has also confirmed nine positive cases of the Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD) in Lahore, a condition caused by intake of food or water contaminated with the Vibrio cholerea bacteria.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described it as a global threat to public health and an indicator of inequality and lack of social development. Many cases of cholera, an infectious disease, have also emerged in the provincial capital.

The figures were provided by the public sector teaching hospitals in Lahore alone, while the cases reported in private sector healthcare facilities and to the general practitioners could be many times more than the data shared by the CDC.

2,000 hospitalised since April 1; the number of patients termed unusual

Given the rising number of cases, the public health experts fear that the drinking water supply lines in Lahore may have been contaminated because of the city’s decades-old sewerage system. The administration of the government-run Children’s Hospital in Lahore says it was attending some 500 children with acute diarrhoea daily.

“We are attending daily around 500 children with acute diarrhoea and the number was higher than that of last year,” professor of pediatric medicine at the Children’s Hospital Prof Junaid Arshad told Dawn.

He says the AWD cases were also being reported everyday, and most of the patients are coming from within the provincial capital.

Pakistan Academy of Family Physicians (PAFP) President Dr Tariq Mian alleges the health authorities are concealing facts to show lesser burden of disease than the actual number of diarrhoea cases being reported daily.

He says that as per an estimate, out of total 60,000 family physicians in Punjab, 50 per cent are practicing in Lahore and 40 per cent of their total patients are complaining of diarrhoea.

Dr Tariq criticises Punjab health authorities for not involving general practitioners, who are backbone of the healthcare system, while forming a strategy to prevent and control the disease.

He adds the family physicians can play a key role in controlling such epidemics.

“Though the diarrhoea epidemic has hit hard the children in Lahore, thousands of family physicians in the city are still waiting for the guidelines from the health authorities,” he lamented.

Punjab CDC Director Dr Shahid Maghsi says the data of 2,000 acute diarrhoea cases has been obtained from the public sector hospitals of Lahore alone, adding the CDC will also contact the family physicians to asses the actual disease burden.

He says the CDC has communicated to Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) and the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) that the contaminated water and poor food quality may be behind the emergence of such an alarming number of diarrhoea cases in Lahore.

He says normally health authorities report diarrhoea cases in monsoon season, but surfacing of such cases in April-May is a cause of serious concern.

The CDC has launched investigations into the AWD cases in Lahore and also involved the Institute of Public Health (IPH) for lab analysis of samples.

Dr Maghsi says an awareness campaign has also been launched by engaging clinicians, Wasa and PFA as the contaminated water and unhygienic food items are considered main culprits in the diarrhoea outbreaks.

“We have also written to the Lahore commissioner to activate officials to ensure that the drinking water in the city is not contaminated because of broken sewerage,” the CDC director says.

Diarrhoea outbreak could only be prevented by providing better sanitation and sewerage systems, he adds.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2022

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