Experts warn epidemic after floods in Pakistan, calling for global awareness

By Lukman Khan | Gwadar Pro Sep 26, 2022

LAHORE, Sep 26,(Gwadar Pro)-One third of Pakistan is still under water, and experts are concerned over the‘second disaster’—waterborne disease epidemic. “There is an outbreak of diseases, we fear it might get out of control, ”Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s planning minister and the head of the national flood response center, warned the public last week.

Since the beginning of September, multiple cases of dengue·fever were reported in Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Gujranwala. In Sindh, a total of 335 new cases of dengue fever were detected, making the total infectious numbers to 1433, according to incomplete statistics. Other waterborne diseases such as malaria and diarrhea have also wreaked havoc on flood survivors.

“This is a very alarming situation, judging from the reports that we are seeing every day. There is a looming risk of pandemic triggered by waterborne and insect borne diseases.” Prof. Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Zia, Head of Anesthesia and Critical Care Unit, AIMC - Jinnah Hospital Lahore told Gwadar Pro, “1 factor for diseases to spread is that people are not aware of the challenges they will be facing after floods. Without strong publicity on post-disaster epidemic prevention, consequences will be unthinkable”.

“For example, flood water, as well as flood contaminated foods and food containers cannot be eaten or used. Flood water contains all sorts of harmful chemicals, wastes, animal carcass and feces,learning some of the patients had been using it is truly a doctor’s nightmare.” Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Zia said.

Access to clean water is another huge problem for those trying to find food and shelter. Water sources around the flood affected area are not safe and it would take months to sanitize the water supply network and clean up public health facilities.

“If there are no clean water sources, please boil the water then drink it.” The doctor revealed that in the previous Jhelum River floods, medicinal tablets were distributed to survivors, including the doctor himself, in order to purify water, “the government should do (distribute medicinal tablets) the same.”

Flood provides a perfect habitat for mosquitoes to breed, which leads to the spread of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. As for preventing a possible dengue epidemic, an expert from China and Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Zia both recommended that mosquito control is an urgent task.

“To prevent insect-borne diseases, we must first strengthen mosquito prevention and control around camp sites. Put insect screens on doors and windows of the camp site. The flood victims should wear protective (long, loose-fitting, light-coloured) clothing when outdoors, and apply anti mosquito sprays on the exposed skin.” Li Tongceng, Chief physician of respiratory and infectious diseases department at China’s Beijing Youan hospital told Gwadar Pro.

“But to be honest, currently people do not have access to things I have mentioned.”

Due to heavy rainfall and floods, more than 161,000 flood victims are staying in temporary relief camps. “What is more worrying is those who are forced to sleep under an open sky and close to huge swathes of stagnant water, without shelter and protection.”​ Dr. Muhammad Ashraf Zia said. 

“We have previously focused on Pakistan for our research topics on infectious diseases, and the country is still under the threat of cholera, malaria, dengue fever and even polio. As a developing country, we understand the difficulties developing countries face in preventing and controlling infectious diseases.” Doctor LI Tongceng said.

“After the floods, international organizations are continuing to pay attention and provide help. Many countries, including China, are providing assistance. But environmental warming caused extreme weather and secondary disasters such as epidemics is a global problem and the world needs to act in solidarity.”

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