Diseases spread in Karachi as gas crisis forces people to use unboiled water

Published April 4, 2024
Amid contaminated supply from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation pipelines, a large number of citizens are compelled to purchase water cans from numerous filtration plants spread in the city. 
— Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Amid contaminated supply from the Karachi Water and Sewerage Corporation pipelines, a large number of citizens are compelled to purchase water cans from numerous filtration plants spread in the city. — Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

• Around 1,500 gastroenteritis patients reported daily at CHK
• Experts say water contamination very common in Karachi due to broken pipelines, unhygienic conditions at hydrants
• Bottled water unaffordable for ordinary people

KARACHI: Expressing concern over the persistently high number of gastroenteritis cases in the city, experts said on Wednesday that one key reason behind this situation was use of contaminated water for drinking purposes as a paucity of gas and its soaring prices had forced many people to use water without boiling it.

Water supplies to the city, they pointed out, had been found to be highly contaminated on multiple occasions and needed to be properly boiled or filtered to make it safe for drinking.

Speaking to Dawn, doctors at the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), where around 1,500 patients daily report at the emergency department, shared that the cases of gastroenteritis had seen a spike in recent days.

“Currently, gastroenteritis constitutes 70 to 80 per cent of our cases being reported at the hospital’s emergency department on a daily basis. There are a few cases of cholera as well,” shared CHK additional medical superintendent Dr Liaquat Ali Halo.

According to him, patients report with complaints of acute watery diarrhoea and are administered intravenous fluids for rehydration. Most patients are discharged within a few hours while some require admission.

About the reasons behind the increase in gastroenteritis cases, he said lack of chlorination and filtration had been a major factor that contributed to frequent episodes of outbreaks of gastroenteritis in the city, besides consumption of contaminated foods from roadsides and poor hand hygiene.

“Many patients tell us that they are forced to use unboiled water for drinking as gas supplies are highly inadequate in their localities and the filtered water has become costlier,” Dr Halo said, adding that inadequate cooking and eating contaminated raw food and vegetables could also cause illnesses.

At the Indus Hospital, a total of 371 patients of gastroenteritis have visited the facility over the last 10 days.

The hospital saw 80 plus admissions from the illness last month.

At the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Dr Yahya Tunio seconded the opinion about the spike in gastroenteritis cases in recent days.

“We are getting around 200 cases of gastroenteritis daily at the emergency department. A significant number of these patients suffer from mild to severe disease and some of them are admitted for treatment,” he said.

Explaining how people could make water safe for drinking, Dr Yahya said if boiling water wasn’t affordable then people should install three-stage water filters at their homes.

Experts also pointed to the city’s obsolete water distribution system as another cause for contamination.

The masses, they said, were paying high costs on account of water-borne illnesses that could be easily prevented by ensuring provision of clean water at the community level.

Giving his feedback on the city’s public health situation, Dr Altaf Hussain Khatri, senior general physician based in the old city area, said gas shortage amid drastic increase in prices of food and utilities had made survival of poor families extremely challenging.

“The gas shortage has further compounded miseries of the masses and compromised public health,” he said, adding that along with gastroenteritis, patients of respiratory infections were still reporting in high numbers to general physicians.

“They are very effective as they filter sediments and kill pathogens,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2024

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