(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

After the floods, threat of mosquito-borne diseases

A spontaneous settlement at the Supro Bund
Sumaira Jajja/IRIN

An outbreak of dengue fever has hit the Pakistani coastal city of Karachi, with five reported deaths out of 1,000 confirmed cases, triggering a run on shops selling mosquito nets.

“People get very irritated when we tell them we have run out; some are quite desperate,” said Sadiq Hameed, a shopkeeper at a store selling bedding items.

But a meeting of experts on 16 October hosted by the National Institute of Health in the capital, Islamabad, warned that although dengue was a risk, malaria, another mosquito-borne disease, posed a much more serious threat, especially in flood-affected areas.

Guido Sabatinelli, the World Health Organization representative in Pakistan, told IRIN that even at the start of the malaria season there were “300,000 suspected cases” nationwide.

The millions of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods to the floods are finding it difficult to protect themselves against either malaria or dengue - both potentially deadly diseases.

“We know malaria is a risk, but what are we expected to do when we have no roof to sleep under, no proper cots to tie nets to and a situation where dirty water stands everywhere?” said Saghir Muhammad, 40, who returned two weeks ago to his village near the southern city of Thatta.

He told IRIN his four-year-old son had a fever, which doctors thought could be malaria; they were awaiting the results of blood tests.

The hot, humid weather makes it hard to keep children covered throughout the night; sleeping out in the open means that insect repellent quickly evaporates.

“Of course [the pools of stagnant] water should be drained away, but we have no equipment and it is not easy anyway to get rid of so much water,” a health department official in Thatta told IRIN.

Organizations working with flood victims, including the UK-based health charity Merlin and the children’s organization Plan International have warned that the flood-hit areas provide ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes and a potential malaria epidemic.

Plan International has estimated that the floods could result in two million malaria cases in Pakistan, double the annual count.

Dengue is spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Repeated infections increases the risk of dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), a potentially fatal complication.

Malaria is transmitted by the bite of a female Anopheles mosquito, and is endemic in all 62 flood-hit districts.


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