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Looming health hazards in flood-hit Pakistan

Looming health hazards in flood-hit Pakistan

Picture of Shahid Ali  Panhwer

Post flood diseases spearhead amid crumbled lives stumble to clutch a bit of safety in early flood-hit areas of Pakistan. The havoc triggered by floods has already robbed more than 1400 lives, rendered 3 to 4.5 million people affected leaving a severely dented infrastructure and threatens to aggravate further if not addressed properly.

Calamity hit displaced population with poor access to safe drinking water, sanitation, adequate shelter, primary healthcare facilities and other basic needs remain highly vulnerable to various health risks.

Provincial health minister for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had already informed about 100,000 cases of illnesses like gastroenteritis in the province. Patients with trauma, skin diseases and dehydration are also being reported while such cases are likely to come out in other provinces of the country as the flood continues to roll over other parts of the country.

According to WHO fact sheet floods can potentially increase the transmission of both water-borne and vector-borne communicable diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, leptospirosis, hepatitis, malaria, dengue, dengue haemorrhagic fever, yellow fever, and West Nile Fever.

Risk of these diseases is looming large as they are linked to significant population displacement, contaminated drinking and standing flood waters. At present, drinking water resources in flood-hit areas have been washed away and remaining potable water in the system has largely shrunk owing to non-functional supply systems crowned by scraped sanitation facilities. It is reported that over 80 percent of the tube wells and drinking water sources in the affected areas were non-operational.

In flood hit areas poor nutrition adds to health problems. Typically, due to nature of limited resources and limited reach to marooned population in such emergencies, yawning food necessities of affected masses are met with scant supplies and these limited supplies cause persistent hunger, which weakens their immune systems to collapse before any disease.

In past, Pakistan has experienced diseases associated with crowding in post disasters situations. Following 2005 earthquake, the country witnessed sporadic cases and clusters of measles and recorded measles related deaths. Crowding situation is a budding ground for Meningitis, where it is transmitted from person to person and usually acute respiratory infections also become another major cause of illness and death among displaced populations.

Water supply contaminated by corpses may cause gastrointestinal infections and direct exposure to dead skin, blood or body fluids causes blood-borne viruses to spread. Although not epidemic in nature the situation holds potential risks of contracting Hepatitis B & C and HIV for relief workers who routinely handle corpses.

Snakebites have also been reported from flooded areas. Floods fill up burrows of snakes, poisonous organisms and pests with water and they become dislocated. After departing from their habitat they spread everywhere and mud, filth and humidity create ideal conditions for many pests to grow in number and ultimately pose another threat to human health.

On the basis of previous experiences dealing with disasters coupled with disaster management preparedness, though ineffective in recent pre-disaster warning, responsible institutions mustering the help of other relief organizations can be considered in a position to carry out comparatively better relief operations but as the situation has aggravated to unexpected size, the pre designed contingency plans obviously require an urgent review and there is a critical need for re-planning of both therapeutic and preventive measures. Any mismanagement and lack of data can be feared to hinder the relief operations.

The Disaster is going to leave behind a legacy of pain and mayhem. The loss of life is irrecoverable. The only thing that can be done straight away is to minimize the adverse impacts of flood on affected people. Only a timely health focused aggregate strategy can avert the situation. Now there is immediate need of a systematic and comprehensive evaluation to ascertain the actual food, safe water, shelter and health needs of affected population and availability of the same in adequate supplies that requires resources attached with an organized & refined approach to gear up efforts in order to cope with emerging health threats and save human lives.


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