Floods in Pakistan: Children face new disaster – waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, dengue fever

An hour later, another child died of her illness. Her weeping grandmother watched in despair as the doctor also wrapped her in white.

The children died of cholera, an acute diarrheal disease contracted from drinking water contaminated with bacteria.

They are not the only ones.

More than 10 children are dying every day from water-related diseases at the Maternal and Child Health Hospital in Pakistan’s Sindh province alone, according to the agency’s doctors, following the devastating floods that engulfed a third of the country this summer Caused.

Dozens of children were crammed into beds in hospital emergency rooms; some were unconscious, others were crying in pain. Pale, lethargic, protruding ribs, and bulging eyes are all symptoms of malnutrition.

Exhausted parents waited in the deafening silence in the next room. Numb and frustrated, they don’t know if their child will be able to leave the hospital alive.

“The flood came, it rained. Then our patients came in like a flood,” said Dr. Nazia Urooj, Chief Physician of the Hospital’s Children’s Emergency Department.

It’s an almost unprecedented health crisis spreading across Pakistan – but for many, help has yet to come. Aid groups have warned that if the international community does not act now, it will only get worse.

The disaster has only just begun

So far, record monsoon rains and flooding from melting glaciers in the mountains of northern Pakistan have claimed the lives of nearly 1,600 people – more than a third of them children – and an estimated 33 million more have been affected.

Floods washed away houses and tens of thousands of people were stranded on the road with no food to eat or clean water to drink.

In Sindh, one of the worst affected provinces, villages have been completely cut off, making it almost impossible for families to seek help for their sick children.

“Many children don’t even go to hospitals because the medical facilities they have access to are either underwater or inaccessible,” said Adash Legari, UNICEF communications officer in Pakistan.

On the outskirts of Kazi Ahmed, Sindh province, a mother and her young child travelled on a rickety boat to transport stranded residents to a medical facility.

A mother tried to cool her ailing daughter’s forehead with a cloth soaked in dirty water. Image credit: Javed Iqbal/CNN

“She had a high fever and was unconscious,” the mother said, desperately cooling her daughter’s forehead with a cloth soaked in the dirty floodwaters that made her sick.

The boat was packed with families seeking help. In the distance, parents wade waist-high with their children and belongings, trying to cross the flooded road.

Elsewhere, a young, pregnant mother of five tried to soothe a child crying from hunger. Flies flew in their faces as they cried for her attention.

Severely anemic, she desperately sought help.

“There’s no blood in my body. I need two vials of blood,” she said, before picking up one of her children and patting them to sleep. “I don’t feel well. I have a fever. I need blood.”

The pregnant woman’s son cried, and flies flew over his head. Image credit: Javed Iqbal/CNN

Disease ‘too much’

As the floodwaters slowly recede, a new catastrophe is emerging, with thousands battling diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery, dengue fever and malaria.

The most vulnerable are the poorest people in the country. Rani, who took her sick three-year-old son Abbas to the Maternal and Child Health Hospital, said their village was surrounded by floodwaters and their houses were completely destroyed, forcing them to live under plastic sheets on the road.

During the day, Rani and her family endured extreme heat and dehydration. At night, the mosquitoes “attack”, she said.

“We burn the waste so the mosquitoes don’t bite (the children),” Rani said. “We stay active at night so our kids can sleep.”

An outbreak of dengue fever — a viral infection spread by the Aedes mosquito, the same insect that transmits Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever — has been reported in Sindh province.

It causes flu-like symptoms, including a tingling headache, muscle and joint pain, fever and rash, although only 25 percent of those infected show symptoms. In extreme cases, bleeding, shock, organ failure, and possibly death can result.

Rani’s son was treated in the hospital’s emergency room. Image credit: Javed Iqbal/CNN

Mosquitoes in the province are a concern, said UNICEF’s Leharie.

“There are no nets. The mosquitoes bring malaria and disease,” he said. “The other is cholera…like the massive amount of disease coming out of these flooded lakes. It’s going to turn into a bigger health crisis.”

In a statement last week, the United Nations called the situation “worrying”.

“Millions of children are still struggling to survive, and we fear that thousands will not survive,” the statement said.

In a hospital waiting room, Mai Sabagi, the grandmother of a 5-year-old girl who had just died of cholera, said her family had not taken the 1,000 Pakistani rupiah ($4) needed to take her body.

Her seven-year-old grandson died in another hospital. Two of her other grandchildren were also ill.

Mai Sabagi cried when she learned of her granddaughter's death.

“It all happened because of the rain,” she said. “We lost our clothes…everything. Our house was destroyed. We didn’t get any relief. The poor couldn’t afford treatment.”

Source link