Aid agencies are warning of major outbreaks of disease in camps for displaced people in northwestern Pakistan as the monsoon season approaches. They say the available health facilities and medical care is not sufficient to cope with the projected needs.
U.N. agencies warn a major potential disaster in health services is looming in the tribal areas of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province. They say they do not have the capacity to help all those who need or who will be in need of health care.
The United Nations estimates 2.6 million people have fled their homes since the government began its military offensive against Taliban militants early this month. Most are staying with family and friends or in rental accommodations. About 200,000 are living in 27 camps in districts bordering the tribal areas.
Speaking on a telephone link from Peshawar, World Health Organization Representative in Pakistan, Khalif Bile, says so far health workers have been able to deal with medical problems as they have arisen.
For instance, he notes there have been 24 measles outbreaks in the camps. And, all have been controlled.
"But, the risk of major outbreaks are possible," said Bile. "We are approaching the monsoon period, where the humidity and the floods will add an additional burden on the situation and, therefore, the fight against epidemics will become one of our major tasks and one of our major challenges faced by the health sector in this province by the government of Pakistan and the International community."
Bile says the internally displaced people are very vulnerable and at risk of getting sick. He says many are in poor condition. Some are suffering from injuries or the affects of walking long distances. He says many mothers and children are arriving at the camps half-starved.
But, as bad as their condition is, the WHO doctor says it is likely that people who are trapped in the conflict zones are even worse off. He says almost half of the health facilities in the district of Swat are closed. The doctors and paramedics have left.
"Twenty-three of the basic health units in district Swat have been destroyed. So, patients are being referred to the district hospitals in Mardan and that hospital is actually over-flooded with patients. Something like 300 wounded patients may have been brought to the district hospital since the onset of this conflict. And, they have been treated over there," Bile said.
Bile says Swat has been emptied of almost half of its pre-war population. He says the army is providing relief goods, food, medical facilities and so on to those who have not yet been able to escape.