Gastroenteritis outbreak

Published July 21, 2010

It is estimated that upwards of 230,000 Pakistani children die every year from waterborne diseases. -Photo by AP

Clean drinking water and adequate sanitation remain a distant dream in Pakistan. Given that the reality on the ground is not going to change any time soon, it is critical in the immediate term that attention be focused on measures which can help prevent waterborne diseases.

It is estimated that upwards of 230,000 Pakistani children die every year from waterborne diseases such as typhoid, cholera and gastroenteritis. Such is the scope of the problem that water-related ailments account for nearly 40 per cent of bed occupancy in the country's healthcare facilities and cost the exchequer roughly Rs120bn on an annual basis. It may be impossible to bring this seemingly never-ending cycle of misery to a complete halt. However, it is well within our means to significantly reduce the human suffering caused by waterborne diseases.

Nearly 60 patients, most of them children, were rushed to hospital on Monday after a gastroenteritis outbreak in Karachi's Landhi area. This should serve as a wake-up call for the authorities. Summer and the monsoon season are both catalysts for waterborne diseases and a major media campaign must be launched informing the public about basic preventative measures. In particular, stress needs to be placed on boiling drinking water, a simple procedure for many that can save countless lives. Of particular concern here are villagers who do not have ready access to healthcare facilities or the means for treatment. In this context there is a need for mobile medical units that can be dispatched to areas where outbreaks are reported.

The corporate sector can also show greater responsibility and play its due role. For instance, firms manufacturing liquid oral rehydration products could distribute their goods to the poor for free because the powder format is of little use when mixed with contaminated water. For both the government and the private sector, the time to act is now.

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