Thursday May 30, 2024

‘Chikungunya epidemic spiralling out of control in Karachi’

By M. Waqar Bhatti
April 28, 2017

Sindh Health Department seeks WHO’s assistance; health body officials to visit city next month

Despite running two separate, dedicated programmes for eliminating mosquito-borne diseases, including malaria and dengue, for the past several years, the Sindh Health Department seeks “technical assistance” for prevention and management of chikungunya, whose cases have been on the rise in Karachi for the past five months.

Public and private hospitals in different parts of the city – including Malir, Bin Qasim Town, Ibrahim Hyderi, Korangi, Lyari, Orangi Town, Surjani, Machhar Colony and Keamari – are flooded with people complaining of symptoms similar to that of the chikungunya viral infection. On the basis of symptomatic analysis, physicians are treating them as chikungunya patients.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne, non-lethal viral disease caused by a species of mosquitoes called Aedes aegypti, which also carry the dengue and zika viruses. According to experts, the chikungunya virus causes fever and severe joint pain, while other symptoms include muscle pain, headache, nausea, fatigue and rashes.

“In view of constant rise in reported cases of chikungunya, certain steps need to be taken for its prevention and management,” the director general of the Sindh Health Services wrote to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country representative in Pakistan.

“In this regard, you are requested to provide technical assistance for prevention and control of the chikungunya epidemic in Sindh, especially in Karachi.”

DG Dr Muhammad Taufiq told The News on Thursday that chikungunya was a “new disease” for doctors and the authorities in Pakistan so they required “technical assistance” and support from the international health body in dealing with the menace.

“WHO has already issued a health advisory on the chikungunya outbreak in Karachi, and they had asked us if we needed any support to deal with this issue. In return, we requested them to provide us technical support for its prevention and management.”

Dr Taufiq added that WHO officials in Pakistan were already in touch with the Sindh Health Department to deal with the menace.

Health officials claimed that so far thousands of people had been taken to public and private hospitals in Karachi on the suspicion of having a chikungunya infection.

However, they added, since the blood samples of the patients were sent to the National Institute of Health Islamabad for confirmation, the Sindh Health Department had only confirmed 200 patients with the infection. They claimed that around 1,000 people reported symptoms at hospitals similar to a chikungunya infection.

Dr Taufiq said that although the health department had people who were dealing with malaria and dengue for years across the province, they were worried about the emergence of chikungunya, although its carrier, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, was present in the environment for the past several decades.

“We witnessed the dengue viral fever in Sindh in 1998, and now we’re facing an epidemic of chikungunya. We want to ascertain the truth and factors behind its emergence and spread.”

He said that most cases of the viral infection were being reported from the localities known for poor sanitary conditions, including Ibrahim Hyderi (a coastal town in the outskirts of the city where outbreaks of infectious diseases are often reported), Bin Qasim Town, Lyari and some areas of Malir.

“Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne disease, and the solution for controlling it lies in fumigation in the affected areas by the municipal authorities. It is the job of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to eradicate the mosquitoes, improve the sanitary conditions and prevent people from vector-borne diseases.”

He claimed that despite repeated requests and arrangement of insecticides for spraying in the affected areas, the KMC was unwilling to start fumigation. He urged the people to take preventative measures to save themselves from the agonising disease.

WHO mission’s visit

On the request of the Sindh health authorities, a two-member WHO team, comprising experts and epidemiologists, would visit the affected areas of Karachi on May 2 and 3, and would meet with the health authorities, including Dr Taufiq, on May 4.

A WHO official in Pakistan said they were already in touch with the health department to deal with the chikungunya outbreak, its vector control and management of patients, while they were also issuing necessary guidelines for its prevention and treatment.

WHO officials would visit various areas of the city next month, collect evidences and monitor the situation on ground to advise the authorities accordingly, added the official.