PAKISTAN: Health concerns persist in flood-ravaged Sindh
Islamabad , 7 August 2003 (IRIN) - The worst is still to come as people in flood-ravaged areas seek to resume their routines and to return to lives badly hit by the rains in the southern province of Sindh, with medical facilities and doctors bracing themselves for a spate of disease outbreaks and, possibly, even epidemics, according to a physician in the port city of Karachi.
"I think the most common illness is likely to be diarrhoea, predominantly because of the contaminated water, but we could be looking at an unbelievable amount of people suffering from other illnesses," Dr Wasim Jafri, the head of the prestigious Aga Khan Hospital’s department of medicine, told IRIN from Karachi on Thursday, adding that the presence of corpses and carcasses in water that was still extremely deep in some areas was a worrying factor.
"Mosquitoes are being cultivated like anything, which could lead to malaria. Plus, diarrhoea could take any form: we’re looking at the possibility of salmonella occurring in patients, as well as typhoid. We could see hepatitis A and E spread through contaminated water," he said. Both forms of hepatitis could lead to even more deaths because of the poor nutritional status of people who had subsisted on just a few mouthfuls over periods stretching to several days, he added.
"Hepatitis B is the most worrisome in these conditions. While 90 percent of healthy adults afflicted with hepatitis B could overcome the illness, we’re looking at the possibility of a similar percentage of newborns and children under the age of five who could contract this disease, and whose weakened state would not allow their bodies to resist the illness," he added.
Meanwhile, people had started returning to their homes in Badin, about 350 km northeast of Karachi, and the worst-hit district when the heaviest rains in a decade inundated Sindh with unprecedented floodwaters, an official in the Badin District government, Dr Soomar Khoso, told IRIN from Badin city. "The floodwaters have gone down and people have started returning to their homes," he said.
"If it doesn’t rain over the next couple of days, we should see more people returning to their homes," he predicted, adding that the number of relief camps set up in the district had dropped from 91 to 63. The camps had been struggling to cope with the thousands of people left stranded or homeless since the flooding began almost two weeks ago.
President General Pervez Musharraf visited the badly affected district on Thursday to assess the situation for himself.
There had been no epidemic caused so far, despite the havoc caused and in spite of the fact that people were drinking contaminated water, Khoso said. Meanwhile children under five years of age were being vaccinated against hepatitis, the effects of which would last for five years.
Over a million people in Sindh and the neighbouring southwestern province of Balochistan were affected by the deluge, with hundreds said to have perished and an entire year’s crop destroyed. The Sindh government declared a state of emergency almost two weeks ago after huge tracts of land were inundated and thousands of people left stranded on their rooftops and any other high ground available, with tens of thousands forced to take up shelter in emergency camps set up by the Pakistani army and relief NGOs, which rushed to offer assistance.