News / Asia

UN: Millions of Children in Pakistan at Risk of Disease

Lisa Schlein

The United Nations reports as many as 3.5 million children in flood-stricken Pakistan risk falling ill from waterborne diseases.  A United Nations spokesman in Pakistan says children in emergency situations are particularly vulnerable to deadly diseases such as acute watery diarrhea and dysentery.    

Pakistani authorities estimate the devastating floods are affecting 20 million people.  Of these, the United Nations says at least six million are in need of emergency life-saving assistance.

A spokesman for the World Health Organization, Paul Garwood, tells VOA dangerous waterborne diseases thrive in the kind of unsanitary, overcrowded conditions in which people are living.  

"When there is excess amounts of unclean water in communities where people live, where people have limited access to safe, clean drinking water and have bad sanitation conditions, where maybe there are many people living in congested settings, the risk of the spread of water borne diseases like acute watery diarrhea increases," Garwood said.

Garwood says anyone can fall ill, but children, as well as women and the elderly are most vulnerable.   He says WHO has reports of thousands of cases of acute watery diarrhea in flood-stricken Pakistan.  

He says many children are suffering from diarrhea, from acute respiratory infections and skin conditions such as scabies.

The WHO spokesman says water borne and communicable diseases, such as measles, are only part of the health concerns.  He notes nearly 100 health facilities have been damaged or destroyed by the floods.  And, this, he says, is hampering the ability to deliver health care to those in need.

"We know that many people have suffered injuries," he said. "They will require support to overcome these injuries.  Many people have also suffered psychosocial trauma, mental trauma as a result of living through an extremely traumatic event.  Women continue to deliver babies.  So, pregnant women require continued service health-wise.  There are many health issues beyond communicable diseases that need to be responded to and that people need to be aware of."  

Garwood says WHO has more than 300 staff working throughout the country.  He says hundreds of mobile health workers are moving throughout the worst-hit parts of the country to treat the sick and injured.  He says hundreds of tons of medicaments have been distributed.

He notes these actions are costly and urges international donors to respond to WHO's appeal for $56 million.  He says this money is crucial to provide critical, life-saving and curative interventions for millions of people over the next 90 days.

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