Pakistan floods: A health crisis of epic proportions

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With 33 million people affected by floods, there is an increased risk of waterborne diseases and disrupted access to health services.

Three million people have been affected by the recent floods in Pakistan. The disaster has left more than 1,300 people – including more than 400 children – dead, millions displaced and a third of the country submerged.

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The floods were caused by a severe heat wave that caused glaciers in the mountains to melt and more monsoon rains than usual.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the floods as a “monsoon on steroids” and a “climate catastrophe”. South Asia is one of the world’s climate crisis “hotspots”, where people are 15 times more likely to die from climate effects, he warned. Although Pakistan’s contribution less than 1 percent Its share in the devastating effects of climate change is enormous, in global carbon emissions.


The initial flood waters devastated towns and villages, posing an immediate threat of drowning and thus taking many lives. But as water continues to destroy crops and the roads along which food is transported, malnutrition becomes a very real threat. As is the case with many natural disasters, the most vulnerable will be affected the most.

In addition to being a humanitarian disaster, the floods also threaten the very fragile health infrastructure in Pakistan, bringing with them a new set of worrying health challenges.

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Even before the current flood, there was considerable disparity in access to health services between rural and urban areas. It has become difficult to reach these rural areas. The World Health Organization (WHO) said that more than 1,400 health facilities was completely or partially damaged and access to “health facilities, health workers, and essential medicines and medical supplies” remained the main health challenge.

waterborne diseases

Another major concern is the potential increase in waterborne diseases. Those who have fled the devastation are living in makeshift camps with little or no clean water. According to the charity WaterAid, half of the water, sanitation and sanitation facilities in some of Pakistan’s hardest-hit regions have suffered substantial damage, and there are already reports of thousands of people suffering from dysentery.

This highly contagious disease is an intestinal infection that causes severe diarrhea with blood, fever, abdominal cramps and life-threatening dehydration. The bacteria and parasites that cause dysentery, Shigella E. coli and amoebiasis thrive in poorly clean water. Children and the elderly will be most at risk of complications with dehydration.

The spread of cholera is also a concern, according to the WHO and And, Cholera is an infectious disease caused by Vibrio cholerae bacteria. It spreads through contaminated water supplies. If not managed properly, it can lead to hypovolemic shock leading to fluid loss, kidney failure, and death. People who are infected with cholera can shed bacteria in their stool for up to 10 days, increasing the risk of spreading it.

Before the floods, Pakistan was facing a surge cases of choleraMore oral cholera vaccines and surveillance programs were being established, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan regions, but many of these would have been pushed back due to floods.

As the flood waters stop, we are also going to see an increase in the mosquito population, which will use the water as a breeding ground. Mosquitoes carry vector-borne diseases, the most worrying of which are malaria and dengue fever.

With malaria, mosquitoes carry the Plasmodium parasite that is released into the bloodstream when an affected mosquito bites a human. The parasite travels to the liver where it grows; Once fully formed it leaves the liver and enters the red blood cells and begins to multiply. When the number inside a red blood cell reaches critical levels, they break open, destroying the cell, and the cycle begins again with new parasites. Symptoms usually include fever, sweating, anemia and vomiting. There is a risk of coma and death if not treated with proper medication.

Dengue fever is spread through the bite of a mosquito that harbors the dengue virus. Symptoms include high fever, headache, rashes, swollen glands as well as vomiting and bloody diarrhea. A small percentage of people with dengue fever may develop a more severe form of the disease called dengue hemorrhagic fever. This can cause severe bleeding and death.

Skin diseases caused by people living in wet conditions are already widely reported. Dermatological fungal infections grow best on wet or moist skin. As people travel through floods, they expose large portions of their skin to microbes that live underwater. Unable to wash off afterward, these bacteria and fungi thrive in the folds of skin under the breasts, in the groin area and between the toes, causing intense itching, pain, and cracking of the skin, increasing the risk of further infection .

interrupted care

There is also a concern that the floods will hamper much-needed vaccination programs across Pakistan.

According to the WHO, before the floods, Pakistan had recorded more than 4,500 cases of measles and 15 cases of wild poliovirus in 2022. Children would now be put at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases as the infrastructure needed to access and provide these life-saving vaccines was washed away.

Additionally, children face an education crisis as floods have also completely or partially destroyed nearly 19,000 schools. This lack of education as well as the trauma of living during such a major natural calamity is going to have far-reaching consequences for the affected children.

Among the millions seriously affected are at least 650,000 pregnant women and girls, 73,000 of whom are expected to deliver in the next month. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says that many of these women do not have access to health facilities and need support to deliver their children safely. With health facilities and homes destroyed, many people do not know where or how they will give birth.

There was height in Pakistan even before the floods Maternal mortality rate Rate – the result of lack of access to health facilities and education, malnutrition, poverty and high prevalence of violence against women. This was most evident in rural areas – the same areas most affected by the floods. And this will affect not only pregnant women and girls, but also women seeking access to contraception and other reproductive health services.

In addition, menstruating women are unlikely to have access to sanitary products and are at risk of serious infection by using pieces of cloth to soak up menstrual blood and then washing it in a contaminated water supply, only to to reuse.

Any relief effort must recognize that women and girls are disproportionately affected by any natural disaster and must plan for women-specific assistance.

There has been criticism over the slow response to aid provision, especially as the disaster comes at a time when many in the West are grappling with their own soaring food and energy bills. But turning away from those living through the climate devastation caused by other countries at large is a mistake.

The global plan must recognize the immediate crisis facing the people of Pakistan, but also the steps required to tackle the wider issue of climate change because if nothing is done, it will inevitably affect all of us. .

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