Flood-hit Pakistan faces malaria outbreak

A patient suffering from dengue fever sits under a mosquito net inside a dengue and malaria ward at the Sindh Government Services Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Malaria cases are rampant in Pakistan's flood-ravaged regions, with the death toll from diseases reaching 324, authorities said on Wednesday, adding that the situation may get out of control if required aid does not arrive soon.

Hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the floods are living in the open, and the stagnant floodwaters - spread over hundreds of kilometres which may take two to six months to recede - have led to widespread cases of skin and eyes infections, diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid and dengue fever.

The displaced families are exposed to swarms of mosquitoes and other hazards, such as snake and dogs bites.

They are in dire need of food supplies, shelter, medical assistance and medicines, which many complain have not been reaching them despite the efforts of the government and local and foreign relief organisations.

With Pakistan's already weak health system and lack of support, displaced families have complained of being forced to drink and cook with unsafe water.

"We know it can sicken us, but what to do, we have to drink it to stay alive," flood victim Ghulam Rasool told local Geo News TV as he stood near where his home was washed away in southern Pakistan.

"The aid is slow to arrive," said Dr. Farah Naureen, Mercy Corps' country director for Pakistan, after visiting several submerged regions.

"We need to work in a coordinated manner to respond to their immediate needs," she said in a statement late on Monday, prioritising clean drinking water. Health and nutrition stand out as the most important needs of the displaced population, she said.

Pakistan's finance ministry said it had approved 10 billion rupees ($42 million) for the disaster management agency to use for procuring flood relief supplies and other logistics.

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The Sindh provincial government on Wednesday said makeshift health facilities and mobile camps in the flooded areas had treated more than 78,000 patients in the last 24 hours, and more than 2 million since July 1. Six of them died, it said.

It confirmed 665 new malaria cases among internally displaced families over the same period, with another 9,201 suspected cases, adding that out of more than 19,000 patients screened in the last 24 hours across the province as a whole a quarter of them - 4,876 - were positive.

United Nations Pakistan said malaria, typhoid and diarrhoea cases were spreading very fast, adding 44,000 cases of malaria were reported this week in the southern province.

Director General Health Services for southwestern Balochistan province, Noor Ahmed Qazi, said malaria was spreading very fast in large areas around stagnant waters.

"We're receiving malaria patients in large numbers on a daily basis in medical camps and hospitals," he told Reuters, adding: "We need more medicines and test kits in flood hit areas."

Deaths from disease are not counted among the 1,569 people who were killed in flash floods, including 555 children and 320 women, the country's disaster management agency said on Wednesday.

A historic and intense monsoon dumped about three times as much rain on Pakistan as the three-decade average, which, combined with glacial melt, caused unprecedented flooding.

The deluge has affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian nation of 220 million, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock in damages estimated at $30 billion.

Scientists say the disaster was exacerbated by climate change.

The government says the economic losses are likely to cut GDP growth down to 3%, from an estimated 5% for financial year 2022-23, as the country was already battling economic turmoil.

The World Health Organization (WHO) described the disease situation as "utterly heartbreaking" and warned the rapid spread of disease could amount to a "second disaster".


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