CHARSADDA: Dr Guido Sabatinelli, Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Pakistan, is a worried man. He says “If we don’t act fast enough, we will soon see a wave of fatalities many times higher than those caused by the actual floods.”
Currently, the greatest health concerns in flood-affected areas are water-borne diseases, which are made worse by poor hygiene and sanitation conditions. The most common problems include skin infections like scabies, diarrhoea, and respiratory infections.
Most aid workers and volunteers said that relief supplies and aid coming in is not nearly enough to cope with the existing health problems, and much more is needed.
There is also a lack of clean water. Organisations like Unicef and the Interfaith League against Poverty are providing tankers of clean water at some camps, but this is not sufficient.
At a medical camp set up by the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD) in a football stadium, the staff runs out of medicine every day, according to Dr Nosheen Khan, who has been at the camp since August 2 and sees around 300 patients daily.
She said illnesses spread rapidly in these camps, where people who have not been accommodated in school rooms sit out in the open verandas. The weather is humid, large numbers of people are cramped in small spaces and the food and water is often bad.
She has seen chest infections spread this way. Also, because of the weather, food rots quickly, resulting in food poisoning.
When food is distributed, people scramble and fight to get what they can often resulting in injuries. Dr Nosheen has seen many patients with such injuries and because of delayed treatment, the wounds become infected.
Malnutrition is another concern and cause of illness, particular amongst children, she added.
Dr Imran Khan, a volunteer from Swat with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) camp in the Government High School for Boys, Prang, said doctors were initially seeing approximately 800 patients a day.
There are 150 beds in the Civil District Dispensary, Charsadda, and about 200 beds were set up by the Red Crescent in this relief camp, he explained, which was not enough to accommodate all the patients. However, now the number of patients has decreased somewhat, he said. There is a shortage of medicines like painkillers, antibiotics and tonics. The patients are given ORS and water purification tablets, and the medical staff imparts health and hygiene education as well.
The camps have limited resources and the more serious cases are referred to the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ), Charsadda, Dr Imran said.
For now, there are only 10 bathrooms for more than 800 people in the camp and poor sanitation adds to the risk of disease. However, MSF is building 30 more in one of the school grounds.
Dr Imran said mosquito nets and coils are needed, to prevent a malaria outbreak.
At the Government Primary School, Prang, representatives from Centre for Excellence for Rural Development (CERD), a partner organisation of UNICEF, have been working solely with children. Saima Siddique, a CERD facilitator, conducts games for children, like Ludo, Carrom, Frisbee and skipping, as well educational sessions on health and hygiene. Hygiene kits have also been distributed.
“The children look forward to these activities and this distracts them,” said Saima. An estimated 1,400 people have died in the floods so far, and if immediate aid does not reach those affected, many more could die, warn experts.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 19th, 2010.