What health problems have arisen in the wake of the devastating floods?
Rashid Jooma: “I am really hoping that we won’t have catastrophic breakouts of illnesses, because it seems that as the waters go downstream, things are beginning to stabilise upstream. The biggest problem from the health perspective has been the trouble with water. All sources of water are contaminated which means the water that you cook with, wash with, drink, and the water that people are wading in, is all heavily contaminated. Because of that, diarrhoeal diseases have been widespread. Initially, during the heavy rainfall, there were quite a lot of pneunomonic types of illnesses and upper respiratory illnesses. Skin diseases have been rampant diseases. There have been over three million consultations since July 31 and out of that, the vast majority was for skin conditions – rashes, itching and scabies. So getting people clean water is the biggest challenge.
The other health thing we are focusing on is malaria control and mosquito control. We are trying to make sure that we have enough insecticides, bed nets, personal repellants and malaria treatments.”
What about water purification programmes?
RJ: “We have been distributing Aqua tablets and sachets of Pure — both are used to disinfect water. But for this you also need to have jars and receptacles.”
Children are particularly vulnerable at this time, what measures are being taken to protect them?
RJ: “I have sent thee head pediatrician from Karachi to Sukkur. We are quickly trying to set up a pediatrics hospital in Sukkur. We’ve just taken over premises from another department. We need to put into place the protection and treatment of the children. The state’s protection mechanism for children is largely based on the outreach services of the Lady Health Workers (LHWs), because they work in a small catchment area of about 100 households. LHWs know about the pregnant women in the areas and know where the young children are. We estimate that about ten and a half thousand LHWs have been dislocated and displaced by the floods. This is rough estimate; we are trying to do a more detailed mapping. Then we are going to try to give them cash compensation, try and get them back into business as soon as possible, because they know their communities and where they are. So we need to get the maximum outreach services up as soon as possible. To a certain extent, we have deviated from the precondition that you never move a LHW from her catchment area. We are making exceptions and now, just for an interim, we are asking them to serve in the camps. So we need to make sure the children in the camps are well protected. And most important, when they go back, to make sure they are getting clean water.”
What about the damage to key medical facilities?
RJ: “The district hospital of Nowshera was very badly hit. The Nowshera district hospital was completely submerged. But with the help of an agency, we have been able to make the hospital operational.”
There have been complaints about the delivery of relief goods and assistance to the flood victims, what are your views on this?
RJ: “I have been very impressed by the level of devotion and hard work that the health department has shown. I have been in touch with most of them in all the provinces. They have been working non-stop in the field. It just goes to show you whenever you can motivate people with a sense that they are working towards a common greater good, you get the best out of people and I’ve been very impressed by that.”