Heavy rains play havoc with children’s health in the earthquake affected areas
By Hugh Delaney
BATTAGRAM, Pakistan, 10 August 2006: With the onset of the rainy season in the earthquake affected region of Pakistan, water-born diseases among children are on the increase. The UNICEF-supported children’s ward at Battagram district hospital has been so overwhelmed with children suffering from acute diarrhoea that two tents have been erected in the yard to accommodate the overflow. In the first 10 days of August, more than 800 patients have been treated at the hospital, and medical staff is working flat out to tend to their patients.
“The main problem is access to clean drinking water”, UNICEF Health Officer, Dr. Wali Mohammad says. “With the heavy rains, the rivers and streams become contaminated, as water flows in from the land often containing waste and other harmful elements. The children then drink the river water and become seriously ill”.
Acute diarrhoea often causes severe dehydration, especially in children, and if not treated urgently, the effects can be devastating. “It is estimated that more than 150,000 Pakistani children die every year of dehydration (resulting from diarrhoea) so this is a potentially very serious problem” stresses Dr. Wali.
Battagram hospital’s seven doctors, nurses and various paramedics, are coping well considering the number of patients they are treating. Each bed in the children’s ward is occupied by at least two children, many with high fevers, most attempting to sleep off their illness under the watchful eyes of their mothers and the medical team.
Brother and sister, Abdullah -12 years old- and Shazma -10 years old- are two of the many children rushed to the hospital suffering from diarrhoea and were unconscious when admitted. They travelled with their mother and father from their home village of Qwanri, about 7 km from Battagram town. They were immediately given a fluid called Ringer’s Lactate, containing water, sodium, chloride and potassium and their condition improved dramatically. Abdullah is now back on his feet and smiling while Shazma is on the mend. When asked how she felt she replied: “I feel like going home”.
“The treatment is simple enough and we have had 100% recovery rate here” says Dr. Shabir Ahmed, head doctor at the children’s ward. “Time is very important, though, and we need to get the children here early”.
UNICEF is also working in the schools to address the problem disease, providing water filters so that children may have access to safe and clean water. “Discouraging children from drinking river water, especially in an area like Maira camp, lying on the banks of the Indus River, is very important to help prevent diseases”, says Fawad Ali Shah, Education Officer for UNICEF Battagram. “The local people here often do not understand the links between health and clean water and UNICEF is using the schools as a focal point to encourage healthy behaviour among children”.
UNICEF has also distributed 156,000 bars of soap throughout Battagram District, through local community workers, who are carrying messages regarding boiling of water, proper hand-washing and other good hygiene practices in an effort to limit the spread of disease.