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Major health risks unfolding amid floods in Pakistan

CAIRO / ISLAMABAD – As districts in Pakistan continue to be affected by massive monsoon rainfall and unprecedented levels of flooding, the World Health Organization (WHO) warns of significant public health threats facing affected populations, including the risk of further spread of water- and vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

The impact of the heavy monsoon rains, which began in mid-July 2022, is drastic, affecting 33 million people in 116 districts across the country, with 66 districts being hardest hit.

According to the ministry of national health services, regulations and coordination, at least 1,000 people have been killed and 1,500 injured as a result of this natural disaster, and more than 161, 000 people have been displaced to relief camps.

Around 888 health facilities have been damaged in the country, of which 180 are completely damaged, leaving millions of people lacking access to health care and medical treatment, as reported in many affected districts.

“According to a preliminary assessment conducted by WHO and humanitarian partners, the current level of devastation is much more severe than that caused by floods in Pakistan in previous years, including those that devastated the country in 2010,” said Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean. “WHO has initiated an immediate response to treat the injured, provide life-saving supplies to health facilities, support mobile health teams, and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.”

Ongoing disease outbreaks in Pakistan, including acute watery diarrhoea, dengue fever, malaria, polio, and COVID-19 are being further aggravated, particularly in camps and where water and sanitation facilities have been damaged. Even before the heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding, Pakistan had reported 4531 measles cases, and 15 cases of wild poliovirus in 2022. The rains and floods have disrupted the nationwide polio vaccination campaign in affected areas.

“WHO is working with health authorities to respond quickly and effectively on the ground. Our key priorities now are to ensure rapid access to essential health services to the flood-affected population strengthen and expand disease surveillance, outbreak prevention and control, and ensure robust health cluster coordination,” said Dr Palitha Mahipala, WHO representative in Pakistan.

With projections that the floods will further worsen over the coming days, with an even greater humanitarian and public health impact, WHO’s immediate priorities are to rapidly expand access to essential health services to the flood-affected population, strengthen and expand disease surveillance, outbreak prevention and control, and ensure a well-coordinated response at national and subnational levels, including the involvement of all relevant partners.

The government of Pakistan is leading the national response, including declaring a state of emergency in affected areas, establishing control rooms and medical camps at provincial and district level, organizing air evacuation operations, and conducting health awareness sessions for people who are now at increased risk of waterborne and vector-borne diseases, as well as other infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Working closely with the ministry of national health services, regulations and coordination, WHO is increasing surveillance for acute watery diarrhoea, cholera, and other communicable diseases to avoid further spread, and is also providing essential medicines and medical supplies to functional health facilities treating affected communities. Prior to the flood, WHO and partners had undertaken vaccinations against cholera in response to the pre-existing outbreak. Pakistan is also one of the two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, and polio teams in affected areas are expanding surveillance for both polio and other diseases. Polio workers are working closely with national authorities to support relief efforts, particularly in areas worst hit by the floods.

WHO has also diverted mobile medical camps, including those responding to COVID-19 teams, to affected districts, delivered 1 700,000 aqua tabs to ensure access to clean water, and provided sample collection kits to ensure clinical testing of samples to ensure early detection of infectious diseases.

While ensuring that essential medicines and equipment are available, WHO and partners are also conducting a broader immediate assessment of the health services impacted and identifying key priority areas requiring a response, including the delivery of routine and emergency health services. WHO’s regional office is also deploying a surge team of public health experts to scale up the country’s response capacity.



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