WHO issues epidemic alert in flood-affected areas of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – The World Health Organization sounded the alarm Saturday about a “second disaster” following deadly flooding in Pakistan this summer, as doctors and medical staff on the ground ran race to fight outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases.

Floodwaters began to recede this week in the worst-affected provinces, but many displaced people – now living in tents and makeshift camps – increasingly face the threat of gastrointestinal infections, dengue fever, and more. Blood and malaria are on the rise. Dirty and stagnant waters have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

Monsoon rains not seen since mid-June, that many experts are concerned with climate change, and subsequent floods killed 1,545 people across Pakistan, inundated millions of acres and affected 33 million people. Up to 552 children were also killed in the flood.

“I am extremely concerned about the possibility of a second disaster in Pakistan: this wave of illness and death, related to climate change, that has severely affected vital health systems. critical to leaving millions of people vulnerable,” WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said in a statement.

“The water supply was disrupted, forcing people to drink unsafe water,” he said. “But if we act quickly to protect health and provide essential medical services, we can significantly reduce the impact of this impending crisis.”

The head of WHO also said that nearly 2,000 health facilities have been completely or partially damaged in Pakistan and called on donors to continue to respond generously so that more lives can be saved.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif arrived in New York on Saturday for the first face-to-face meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly since the coronavirus pandemic. Sharif will call for more help from the international community to deal with the disaster.

Before leaving, Sharif appealed to philanthropists and relief agencies to donate baby food for children, along with blankets, clothes and other food items for flood victims, saying that They are very much waiting for help.

The southern Sindh and southwestern Baluchistan provinces have been hardest hit – hundreds of thousands of people in Sindh are now living in makeshift homes and authorities say it will take months to fully drain the province. .

Nationwide, flooding has damaged 1.8 million homes, washed away roads and destroyed nearly 400 bridges, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

Imran Baluch, head of a government-run district hospital in Jafferabad, in the Dera Allah Yar district in Baluchistan, said that of the 300 people who are tested daily, nearly 70% are positive for malaria.

After malaria, typhoid fever and skin infections are most commonly seen among displaced people who live for weeks in unsanitary conditions, Baluch told The Associated Press.

Pediatrician Sultan Mustafa said he had treated around 600 patients at a makeshift clinic set up by charity Dua Foundation in the Jhuddo area of ​​Sindh, mostly women and children with infections. gastrointestinal tract, scabies, malaria or dengue fever.

Khalid Mushtaq, team leader of doctors from the Alkhidmat Foundation and the Islamic Medical Association of Pakistan, said they are treating more than 2,000 patients a day and are also providing kits containing water purification tablets, soap and other medical supplies. other items in a month.

On Friday, the UN children’s agency in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil, said that after visiting the flood-affected areas of Sindh, an estimated 16 million children have been affected by the floods. overwhelm. He said UNICEF was doing all it could to “support affected children and families and protect them from the ongoing risks of water-borne diseases”.

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