KARACHI/Islamabad: Pakistan is battling an outbreak of dengue fever and other waterborne diseases, particularly in the south of the country, authorities said on Monday, as the government and charities set up hundreds of medical camps across the country to treat patients in flooded areas.
Historic monsoon rains and melting glaciers in northern mountains have caused catastrophic flooding that killed at least 1,314 people and affected more than 35 million, according to data shared by the National Flood Response Coordination Center (NFRCC). A third of the country is under water and extreme weather, widely attributed to climate change, is still expected to continue in the next few days.
In the southern province of Sindh, 511 people, including 219 children, have died, while thousands across the country are being attacked by various vector and water-borne diseases, including diarrhoea, malaria, skin infections and dengue fever, according to paramedics working in the field. .
Official data from the Sindh government shows the number of dengue cases rising from 361 in July to 1,336 in September, while only 257 cases were reported in the first four days of September. The Sindh government has set up 110 medical camps and assigned 117 doctors and 277 paramedics who have treated more than 785,000 patients in the flood-affected areas since July.
“Mosquitoes are spreading rapidly in all flood affected areas of Sindh province, leading to a high number of daily dengue cases,” Mehar Khurshid, spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Sindh, told Arab News.
Malaria cases are also increasing due to contaminated water. Many places are still inaccessible to health teams and the true picture of diseases will only be known after the flood waters recede.”
Khurshid said the government plans to fog up the flood-affected areas to treat vector-borne diseases. “We are working to provide special planes for air fogging, as the situation with regard to waterborne diseases is getting more and more serious,” she said.
According to a report by the Sindh Department of Health, 94 people were diagnosed with dengue on Saturday, while 161 were hospitalized on Thursday and Friday.
Dr. Omar Sultan, an official at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), the largest state-run health facility in the province, said about 50 people are currently admitted to four wards of the hospital in Karachi.
“These constitute three percent of patients, as 97 percent of patients are sent home from outpatient departments,” Dr. Sultan added.
Sindh’s Minister of Health, Dr Ezra Fazl Bechuho, said the provincial government was tackling the diseases with the support of its international partners.
“Antibiotic supplies are procured and distributed and IDPs are being monitored to identify cases of respiratory problems and diarrhea, which are immediate concerns,” she told Arab News.
Dr. Muhammad Anees, who heads a medical relief camp set up by the Al-Mustafa Charitable Society in Karachi, said that every one of the flood victims, who took refuge in the southern coastal city, had some form of contagious disease.
“I examined more than 250 people in two days, most of whom were diagnosed with stomach or skin problems, which were directly caused by the subsequent rains and floods in their hometown,” Dr. Anis told Arab News, adding that most patients developed rashes below the knees due to Roaming in the water for a long time.
“Waterborne diseases are common among flood victims. In a few cases, skin has been exposed to rust to a level that produces chlorides.”
Teams of volunteer doctors have also set up camps in the flood-affected districts of Punjab, with supplies of essential medicines to treat the sick.
“Cholera and diarrhea are spreading rapidly in the flood-affected areas of Punjab, where teams of doctors, volunteers and local government treat patients,” Dr. Salman Haseeb, president of the Young Doctors Association, told Arab News.
Haseeb said their teams have set up at least 40 medical camps so far in Punjab and Sindh provinces to treat patients. “The situation in Sindh and Balochistan provinces is very serious as our teams are struggling to reach the sick as the floods have washed away almost all major roads,” he said.
He appealed to the provincial government of Balochistan and the Pakistani army to help them reach the inaccessible areas of the southwestern province via helicopters. Haseeb warned that “if these diseases are not controlled in time through effective medical assistance, it may turn into another disaster.”
A number of charities and welfare organizations mobilized their resources and manpower to reach the flood-affected areas for rescue and relief work.
Dr. Zahid Latif, Secretary of Health Services at the Services Corporation said that vector-borne diseases are spreading in all the flood affected areas across Pakistan and that they have set up more than 200 medical camps so far and have treated around 70,000 patients for these diseases.
More than 1,000 doctors and paramedics are working with the foundation in the flood-affected areas of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces to provide relief to those affected.
He warned that “disease outbreaks in all flood-affected areas are very dangerous and can turn into a health emergency if not dealt with properly in the next two weeks,” adding that pregnant women and children are the hardest hit.
“We will distribute hygiene bags in the affected areas by next week containing soap, sanitary pads for women and other necessary items. We are also planning psychosocial rehabilitation for the affected people with the help of our volunteers.”
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