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Monsoon rains put children at high risk of diarrhoea in Pakistan quake zone

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Delaney
A child is treated for dehydration at Battagram District Hospital, Pakistan. In the first 10 days of August, more than 800 patients were treated here for similar illness.

By Hugh Delaney

BATTAGRAM, Pakistan, 11 August 2006 – Twelve-year-old Abdullah and his 10-year-old sister Shazma were unconscious when they arrived at the children’s ward here in Battagram. Both siblings were suffering from severe dehydration – a result of a diarrhoea epidemic that broke out after the monsoon season began several weeks ago.

With more than 3 million people still homeless after the October 2005 earthquake, the monsoon flooding has further compounded health problems and put many children’s lives at stake in this region. At the Battagram District Hospital, doctors are overwhelmed with the increasing number of patients who are suffering from acute diarrhoea.

In the first 10 days of August, more than 800 patients have been treated at the UNICEF-supported hospital. As new patients arrive daily, two tents have been erected in the yard to accommodate the overflow.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Delaney
Children gathering water from a contaminated source. Since the monsoon season began, many water sources have become polluted, a possible cause for the rising diarrhoea cases among children.

Treatment leads to recovery

“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,” said UNICEF Health Officer Wali Mohammad.

“The main problem is access to clean drinking water,” continued Dr. Mohammad. “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.”

Seven doctors, nurses and various paramedics at Battagram hospital are coping well despite the considerable number of patients they are treating. Each bed in the children’s ward is occupied by at least two young patients. Many have high fevers and are attempting to sleep off their illness under the watchful eyes of their mothers and the medical team.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2006/Delaney
Children recovering from diarrhoea at a clinic in Battagram, Pakistan. The treatment is simple and effective, and full recovery is expected for almost all of the children.

“The treatment is simple enough, and we have had a 100 per cent recovery rate here,” noted the head doctor at the children’s ward, Dr. Shabir Ahmed. “Time is very important, though, and we need to get the children here as quickly as possible.”

Addressing the cause

Thanks to early treatment, Abdullah is now back on his feet and smiling, while Shazma is on the mend. Upon arrival at the hospital, they immediately received a simple solution of water, sodium, chloride and potassium, which improved their condition dramatically. When asked how she felt, Shazma replied, “I feel like going home.”

To address the root cause of the epidemic that sickened Abdullah and Shazma in the first place, UNICEF is working to provide clean water for more children and their families. The agency has also installed water filters and distributed 156,000 bars of soap throughout Battagram District. Health workers in the area are trained to help spread messages regarding good hygiene practices among the community.

“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,” said UNICEF Education Officer Fawad Ali Shah. “Discouraging children from drinking river water is very important to help prevent diseases.”



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