Pakistan: the health impact of the floods
Pakistan’s flood crisis is having an enormous impact on the health of millions of people and the ability to deliver emergency and routine health care to many:
- More than 20 million people have been affected, many of whom have been displaced. At least 8 million need direct humanitarian assistance.
- Of the almost 3000 hospitals and clinics in affected districts, more than 400 have been damaged or destroyed, limiting the provision of emergency and routine care.
- Access to safe drinking water and hygiene and sanitation conditions have been severely impacted, increasing the threats of waterborne disease outbreaks.
- Other health concerns, such as malaria, skin diseases, acute respiratory infections and malnutrition are of paramount concern: cholera is endemic and it is likely that among the many thousands of new diarrhoeal disease cases reported some will be cholera. Suspected malaria cases are increasing in Sindh and Baluchistan Provinces where active transmission of the potentially fatal Plasmodium falciparum is ongoing.
In response, international and national humanitarian organizations have been tirelessly supporting the Pakistan Government’s relief effort to protect health and deliver essential services. The Health Cluster, headed by WHO, has integrated UN and non UN partners to strengthen coordination and has established operational hubs in Hyberabad, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta and Sukkur from where field activities are supported. The strong logistic base has allowed the WHO Country Office to swiftly position medical supplies in all provinces and dispatch Emergency Health Kits and Diarrhoeal Disease Kits where most needed (see the article on Strengthening logistic capacity for health in emergencies).
- An extensive disease early warning system is in place to monitor communicable disease cases and quell outbreaks as soon as any are detected.
- There are around 1200 mobile medical teams operated by government authorities and international and national humanitarian organizations operating in all affected districts.
- Since 29 July, these teams have treated more than 5.7 million people, primarily for skin diseases, acute diarrhoea, respiratory infections and suspected malaria.
- WHO water and sanitation engineers are monitoring the safety of drinking water in temporary shelters as well as in health care facilities.
- WHO is working with health partners, including government authorities and NGOs, to establish diarrhoeal disease treatment centres throughout affected areas. WHO delivered water and sanitation equipment (water tanks, jerry cans, plastic containers and filters) and 10 million water purification tablets to support the installation of diarrhoea treatment centres in affected areas.
- WHO has also delivered more than 1000 tons of medicines to health partners to treat more than 4.5 million people.
- WHO deployed technical staff from both headquarters and the Regional Office in Cairo to strengthen the Country Office’s capacity and to help coordinate the emergency health response at national and sub national levels.
- HAC logisticians helped set up a supply chain with Health Cluster partners and the MoH, ranging from the international procurement of supplies to managing stocks and distributing medicines. The Health Cluster Logistic team has developed guidelines on emergency supply chain management, identifying emergency logistic gaps and preparing a plan of action.
- Global health experts, including from US CDC Atlanta and the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh, have deployed to Pakistan to support health response efforts, including the treatment of diarrhoeal diseases.
But great needs persist. In the north, where the situation has started improving, support will be needed for rehabilitating damaged health care facilities. In Punjab where people are starting to return to their homes, services will be needed to provide care for them as they arrive back in devastated towns. In Baluchistan and Sindh Provinces, widespread flooding continues to force people away from their homes.
With this in mind, the Pakistan Floods Emergency Response Plan Revision was launched in September to provide a coordinated funding appeal. The plan has the strategic objective to ensure adequate public health of the flood-affected population through an integrated approach or “survival strategy” combining Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), health and nutrition. Public health surveillance will identify priority areas for the restoration of basic WASH, health and nutrition facilities and services.
For more information on WHO’s activities in Pakistan
- Health Cluster bulletin
- Disease situation reports
The humanitarian Health Cluster response to the Pakistan floods
- Health crisis continues in southern Sindh
- Photo gallery: Health of millions at risk from Pakistan floods
- Podcast: Challenges still remain after the floods in Pakistan
- Stories from the field