Sindh’s flood-hit areas face outbreak of waterborne diseases among children

Published August 30, 2022
MISERY is writ large on the faces of children sitting on the few belongings their families could salvage from floodwaters and bring to a roadside in Ratodero. The children in the rain-hit areas are at a greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases for lack of clean drinking water and unhygienic conditions in their new makeshift abodes.— Shakil Adil / White Star
MISERY is writ large on the faces of children sitting on the few belongings their families could salvage from floodwaters and bring to a roadside in Ratodero. The children in the rain-hit areas are at a greater risk of contracting waterborne diseases for lack of clean drinking water and unhygienic conditions in their new makeshift abodes.— Shakil Adil / White Star

• Nearly 0.2m cases of diarrhoea, dysentery reported in August • Teams in affected areas say fever, snake-bite cases are common

KARACHI: Describing the situation in the flood-hit parts of the province as “extremely critical”, senior health experts representing different non-profit organisations said on Monday that most areas with little access to potable water and food were gripped by waterborne infections, including acute watery diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and skin ailments.

The experts recalled that Sindh had been experiencing an increase in diarrheal infections since March this year and devastating rains had made the health challenges far more serious.

What lends credence to their statements, among other things, is the provincial health department’s data that shows that Sindh has reported 193,048 cases of watery diarrhoea and dysentery in children in August alone, which is so far the highest number this year. A total of 117,999 cases were reported in July.

“The government relief efforts are nothing but eyewash and most people still have no access to clean drinking water and food. They will die of hunger and disease, if immediate assistance is not provided to them,” Dr Usman Mako heading the Pakistan Medical Association-Sindh chapter said.

Dr Mako, who was able to evacuate his family out of Sukkur before the flood hit his hometown, said several people, including his family, had lost their houses while others had two to three feet standing water at their places.

“There is hardly any dry place to take shelter. People have no clue how to drain out water. Diseases like gastroenteritis are rampant, badly affecting the population, especially children,” he said.

He said the devastation was widespread and few NGOs couldn’t do justice to the job. “Only the government and the army can reach areas cut off by the floodwater.”

Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, general secretary of the PMA-Karachi, described the situation as “very dangerous” and said government assistance had not reached remote areas.

“Our teams are working in several districts and they are telling us that scores of people await help in areas away from the flooded road links. These areas are gripped by multiple disease outbreaks including gastroenteritis,” he observed.

He expressed disappointment over government relief measures and emphasised the need for individual efforts.

Potable water, food, medicines needed

Dr Abdullah Muttaqi of the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (Pima) said the conditions in the flood-hit areas “were extremely bad” and might worsen.

“Fever is common and we can’t rule out dengue or malaria. Our teams have also come across several snake-bite cases,” he said, emphasising the need for immediate medical treatment and disease prevention in the flood-hit areas.

Dr Waseem Jamalvi of the Pakistan Paediatric Association, who has recently visited a government relief camp in Dadu, urged the government to take steps to prevent overcrowding at the health campus.

The flood-hit people, he pointed out, were in need of basic things such as clean drinking water, mosquito bed-nets, general medicines, tents, clothes and food items.

Upon contact, a health department spokesperson blamed flooding and contaminated water for the rise in water-borne infections, particularly diarrhoea.

“Extreme flooding has made it harder to access people and provide safe drinking water. However, health camps have been established across Sindh. All district health officers and deputy commissioners are coordinating their efforts to bring relief and medical assistance to the people who have been affected by the monsoon flooding,” health department spokesperson Mehar Khurshid said.

Several health camps, she claimed, had been set up in school buildings, whereas mobile health units were reaching out to people stranded in flooded areas.

“These camps are providing essential medicines for diarrhoea, cholera, gastroenteritis as well as vaccines and nutrition supplements, fogging and fumigation services to prevent mosquito and vector borne diseases,” she said.

Doctors and paramedics had been mobilised to attend to the displaced persons at these health camps, she added.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2022

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