As flood waters begin to recede in northwestern Pakistan, International Medical Corps health care professionals are stressing the need for preventive measures to reduce the dangers of typhoid or hepatitis outbreaks.
International Medical Corps regional coordinator for Asia Sonia Walia, who is in Pakistan for the flood response, said the organization’s health care teams are providing both preventive services and curative treatment to those in the flood-affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
“Our teams treat disease as well as provide information to the affected population on how to prevent outbreaks,” said Walia. “Proper hygiene such as washing hands before eating is the key to prevention.”
Flash floods that began a month ago in Pakistan have left mass destruction in their wake and contaminated most all fresh water sources across large swathes of the mountainous Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Subsequent flooding along the plains further south in Pakistan’s Sindh and Punjab provinces has also caused significant damage and turned a natural disaster mainly affecting the northwest into one of national proportions.
Acute respiratory tract infection, diarrhea and skin infections among women and children remain the most commonly treated diseases among flood victims in northwestern Pakistan, but Walia said other health issues could easily arise.
“Possibilities of other waterborne diseases, like typhoid and hepatitis A and E, can occur if clean water and proper sanitation are not available to the people”, she warned, noting that lack of clean water for drinking and cooking cause acute watery diarrhea among the flood victims. Typhoid, hepatitis and cholera can thrive in such unhygienic conditions.
Because health awareness is limited in the flood-affected areas of Pakistan, International Medical Corps’ relief work includes health and hygiene education. “Our mobile teams have health educators, who provide education sessions on the benefits of following appropriate hygiene practices. This is not only about preventing common diseases but also following good health practices in general”, Walia said.
Dr Zainab Saifullah, working at an International Medical Corps mobile health team in Akora Khattak, about 30 miles east of Peshawar, said an initial concern about a malaria outbreak had eased in recent days. After initially seeing a increase in malaria diagnoses, the incidence has decreased as the flood waters have receded.
“We feared malaria cases would increase in the wake of receding flood waters, but instead we have seen sharp rise in diarrhea, skin infections and conjunctivitis,” said Zainab. She added that International Medical Corps hygiene promoters and health educators are working closely work with residents of the affected communities to educate them on water use, sanitation and personal hygiene.
She said members of the clinic staff were seeing about 150 patients per day on average.
International Medical Corps currently runs two diarrhea treatment centers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province to provide specialized care to the flood victims, one in Nowshera district east of Peshawar, the other in Mardan city, 30 miles to the northeast.
“Almost all the survivors have contracted the skin infection due to the contaminated water sources,” said Dr Saifullah. “After routine clinical checkups, we refer the patients to the hygiene promotion teams in order to educate them on hygiene practices to overcome diarrhea and ARI and prevent outbreaks of other water-borne diseases.”
Dr Shahidur Rehman, who is deployed with International Medical Corps’ team in government-run college for girls in the Prang area just north of Peshawar, reported a similar picture, but with one addition: a high level of eye infections.
“Conjunctivitis or sore eye is easily communicable and the people should avoid close contact with the affected individuals”, he said, noting the lack of clean water and unhygienic practices caused the viral disease to spread at a faster rate.