World Health Organization officials warn infectious disease outbreaks and malnutrition pose serious health threats to some 8 million Pakistani flood victims.
Historic flood waters are receding in Pakistan, but the impact of the catastrophic event on millions of survivors is far from over.
The World Health Organization reports diseases are rampant, a food crisis is looming, and the economy is deteriorating. This, it says, when winter is fast approaching, putting at further risk the people who lack shelter, fuel for heating, medical care, and other essentials.
WHO's regional emergency director, Richard Brennan, said public health risks are increasing. Speaking from Cairo, he said damaged infrastructure, stagnant water, and inadequate sanitation facilities are providing breeding sites for mosquitos. Since July, he noted, more than 540,000 cases of malaria have been reported in 32 of Pakistan's flood-drenched districts.
"Other health threats include increasing cases of diarrheal diseases, an ongoing dengue fever outbreak, measles, and diphtheria. Among the biggest concerns are the high rates of severe acute malnutrition, especially among children under the age of five years," Brennan said. "Access to safe water and sanitation remain limited, with people using contaminated water for household consumption. Pregnant women need access to clean and safe delivery services."
He noted more than 2,000 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the floods, making the provision of medical services difficult. Nonetheless, he said the WHO is working effectively across several priority health areas, including that of managing acute malnutrition.
"We are doing screening. In some places, we are seeing over 10 percent severe acute malnutrition, let alone overall malnutrition," Brennan said. "So, what WHO has done is, we are supporting around 16 stabilization centers for those with severe acute malnutrition, particularly for kids who have complications from that. We are working with the Ministry of Health to establish another 19."
Brennan said he returned from Pakistan a few weeks ago and was overwhelmed by the massive needs, especially in hardest-hit Sindh province. Unfortunately, given the many competing emergencies around the world, he noted Pakistan's flood disaster very quickly fell off the media radar screen.
He said the WHO requires $81 million to tackle Pakistan's health crisis, but warned that the situation will only worsen if the international community fails to respond.