WHO raises disease alarm in flood-affected areas of Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — The World Health Organization on Saturday warned of a “second disaster” after deadly floods in Pakistan this summer, as doctors and medical workers on the ground raced to fight outbreaks of waterborne and other diseases.

Flooding began to recede this week in the worst-hit provinces, but many of the displaced – now living in tents and makeshift camps – increasingly face the threat of gastrointestinal infections, dengue fever and malaria, which are on the rise. Dirty and stagnant water has become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The unprecedented monsoon rains since mid-June, which many experts associate with climate change, and the ensuing floods killed 1,545 people in Pakistan, flooded millions of acres of land, and affected 33 million people. 552 children were also killed in the floods.

“I am deeply concerned about the potential for a second disaster in Pakistan: a wave of disease and death following this climate change-related disaster that has severely affected vital health systems, leaving millions vulnerable,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in statement.

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

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

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif left for New York on Saturday to attend the first all-in-person gathering of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly since the coronavirus pandemic. Sharif will appeal for more help from the international community to deal with the disaster.

Before his departure, Sharif called on philanthropists and humanitarian agencies to donate baby food for the children, along with blankets, clothes and other food items for the flood victims, saying they were desperately waiting for help.

The provinces of southern Sindh and southwestern Balochistan are the hardest hit, with hundreds of thousands in Sindh now living in makeshift homes and authorities saying it will take months to completely drain the province of water.

Nationally, the floods damaged 1.8 million homes, washed away roads and destroyed nearly 400 bridges, according to the National Disaster Management Authority.

Imran Baloch, head of a government district hospital in Jafferabad, in Balochistan’s Dera Allah Yar district, said that of the 300 people tested daily, nearly 70 percent tested positive for malaria.

After malaria, typhoid and skin infections are the most common among the displaced, who live for weeks in unsanitary conditions, Baloch told The Associated Press.

Pediatrician Sultan Mustafa said he treated about 600 patients at a field clinic set up by the charity Dua Foundation in Sindh’s Jhuddo district, mostly women and children with gastrointestinal infections, scabies, malaria or dengue.

Khalid Mushtaq, leading a team of doctors from the Alkhidmat Foundation and the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, said they treat more than 2,000 patients a day and also provide kits containing a month’s supply of water purification tablets, soaps and other items.

On Friday, the UN children’s agency representative in Pakistan, Abdullah Fadil, said after a visit to the flood-affected areas of Sindh that an estimated 16 million children had been affected by the floods. He said UNICEF was doing everything it could “to support affected children and families and protect them from the continuing dangers of waterborne diseases.”

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