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Health sector treats almost 6 million in flood-affected Pakistan, but great challenges persist

The objective of WHO and health partners in Pakistan is to reduce avoidable death and illness

News release

In a massive health relief effort underway in the flood-affected parts of Pakistan, nearly six million people have been treated for health conditions since the floods began in late July; but there are urgent needs to prevent further health crises or food insecurity caused by large-scale damage to crops and agricultural land.

"Increasing cases of communicable diseases, like diarrhoea and malaria, fears about children being malnourished, the massive disruption to healthcare, crop systems and rising food insecurity are the main health threats facing Pakistan's flood-affected people," says Dr Guido Sabatinelli, WHO's Representative to Pakistan.

Health response to the crisis

Some 20 million people have been affected by the floods, including eight million needing direct life-saving assistance. The health response to date has been delivered by multiple healthcare providers including the Pakistani Ministry of Health, United Nations agencies, and international and national humanitarian organizations. The response to date includes:

  • delivering 1 083 metric tons of medicines to health partners, enough to treat more than 4.5 million people;
  • opening more than 40 centres to treat people suffering from diarrhoeal disease;
  • providing emergency reproductive health services to almost 60 000 patients, including more than 1200 women who have delivered babies;
  • immunizing more than 445 000 children against polio and 428 000 children against measles.

Pakistan's health challenges and the humanitarian response plan have been mapped out in the Pakistan floods emergency response plan launched on 17 September 2010. The plan seeks US$ 200 million to fund 94 health sector projects run by WHO and Health Cluster partners.

Reducing avoidable deaths and illness

"The objective of WHO and our health partners in Pakistan is to reduce avoidable death and illness through a range of life-saving interventions for all people - men, women and children," says Dr Eric Laroche, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Action in Crises, who is today on a mission in northern Pakistan with senior representatives from UNICEF and the World Food Programme. "While concentrating on the ongoing crisis, we are also in parallel working to rebuild a devastated health system and respond to the major life-threatening health risks, such as acute diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, measles, and maternal and neo-natal illness and death."

To increase the response to needs in the region, humanitarian partners working in the health, water and sanitation and food sectors have devised a joint "Inter-Cluster Survival Strategy" due to the inter-related factors that affect the health of millions. Poor sanitation and hygiene increases the risks of water-borne diseases, while inadequate supplies of food increases the risk of malnutrition.

"Before the floods, about 80% of all health expenditure was from out-of-pocket payment and two-thirds of consultations occurred in private health facilities mainly in urban areas," says Dr Naeema Al-Gasseer, WHO's Assistant Regional Director of its Eastern Mediterranean office." This points to a major gap at the best of times for poor people in rural areas of the country, which has only worsened due to this disaster. Millions of people are now either exposed to or already facing serious negative health consequences and insufficient access to health services."

Key activities

Key activities to be funded by the US$ 200 million health plan will include opening more health outposts and service delivery points, restoring access to basic health care, treating injuries and chronic conditions, controlling disease outbreaks, supporting referral to secondary health services of patients suffering life-threatening conditions and needing emergency obstetric and newborn care, and supplying medicines.

For more information, please contact:

Paul Garwood
Communications Officer
WHO, Health Action in Crises
Telephone: +41 22 791 3462
Mobile: +41 79 475 5546
E-mail: garwoodp@who.int

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