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Public health and the flood

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  • Public health and the flood

    So far, despite all the misfortunes that they face, the 5.3 million flood-affected people of Sindh have yet to face a major epidemic of disease, at least thus far. Despite the poor sanitation conditions and difficulties in the supply of clean drinking water to millions camped along roadsides, the WHO reports that, so far, sickness has been limited to relatively few cases of malaria and diarrhoea among children. Of course, all this could change rapidly and that is why there should be no complacency. Things could change very rapidly indeed. Unicef has already spoken of the risk of the dangers that could lurk, especially for young children and also other groups. The presence of standing water, which will soon become stagnant, means that sickness such as cholera and other water-borne diseases could take on epidemic proportions. We already saw this happen to some degree last year, at least in specific areas. What is important is that measures be taken now to prevent disease from taking hold. Planning and mobilisation of health teams is required to achieve this. There is also an urgent need to begin measures to improve sanitary conditions and provide the basic amenities people need.
    The Unicef has started a vaccination campaign with the cooperation of the provincial government against measles and polio which is due to get underway within days. It is important that this be efficiently conducted and all affected populations reached. This is quite a challenge, given that they are scattered all across Sindh. The rampaging flood waters have already taken a very heavy toll on life and welfare. Over the weeks ahead, the biggest challenge is posed by sickness, which so often follows calamity of this nature. It is encouraging that some awareness of the need to ward this off seems already to be in place. But the measures being taken need to be scaled up since standing water and disease go together. This evil alliance must be broken to prevent the deaths that could so easily follow the catastrophic situation that has Sindh in its grip for the second year running.
    Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, *2011.