Disease hovers over flood-stricken areas

    Thursday, August 19, 2010
    Daily Times

    CHARSADDA: As floodwaters rushed into Bakhmina Saeed’s mud-brick home, she grabbed medical records of her daughter’s heart condition, put them in a metal trunk and headed to high ground.

    Eighteen days later, one-year-old Naeema sleeps on a mat in sweltering heat at a fly-infested camp, with no fan, no chance of seeing a cardiologist anytime soon and at risk of catching other potentially fatal diseases in cramped, un-hygienic conditions. “Who will treat her? Saeed asked, saying the doctors said she has a hole in the wall of her heart”. She is also worried because one of her six other children has fallen ill after the floods.

    The United Nations has warned that up to 3.5 million children could be in danger of contracting deadly diseases carried through contaminated water and insects in a crisis that has disrupted the lives of at least a tenth of the country’s 170 million people. There’s a long list of growing risks – endemic watery diarrhoea, endemic cholera, endemic upper respiratory infections.

    At a camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, set up by a UK-registered Islamic charity, doctors and workers scramble to protect children – many of whom don’t grasp the magnitude of the disaster but are the most vulnerable. Some are brought here for daily treatment, others languish with hundreds of others displaced by the floods in a college on the camp’s grounds. It’s a scene that’s being played out across affected areas.

    So far the biggest problem at the camp is scabies, a skin infection that is caused by mites which burrow and produce pimple-like irritations. One of the biggest potential killers – diarrhoea – is a constant worry. A nearby camp run by Islamic charity Ummah Welfare Trust is treating 2,000 cases, said field coordinator Iftikhar Ahmed.