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Wednesday July 24, 2024

No awareness in public as city faces ‘worst cholera outbreak in recent years’

An unprecedented increase in cholera cases has been observed in the months of March and April in Karachi

By M. Waqar Bhatti
April 26, 2022

An unprecedented increase in the cases of cholera, an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with bacterium Vibrio cholerae, has been witnessed in Karachi where hundreds of children and adults are being brought to public and private hospitals for treatment, officials and experts said on Monday.

Officials at the National Institute of Child (NICH), Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH), Sindh Infectious Diseases Hospital and Research Center (SIDH&RC) at NIPA, and Civil Hospital Karachi confirmed to The News that the city was facing the ‘worst outbreak of cholera in recent years’ as hundreds of patients, including both children and adults, were being brought to their health facilities.

They said that although cholera cases were being reported in Karachi for last several years but this year, an unprecedented increase in cholera cases was observed in the months of March and April.

Some health experts also decried the response of the Sindh health department as well as global health bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef towards the diarrhea outbreak. They said the authorities were not informing the public what they needed to do to prevent themselves and their children from a lethal but preventable disease.

“Over a hundred children with acute watery diarrhoea are being brought daily to the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) Karachi, of whom 10-15 are cholera cases. We have so far seen around 50 lab-confirmed cases of cholera when we tested the stool samples of children having diarrhoea,” Prof Dr Nasir Saleem, the NICH director, said while talking to The News.

He maintained that although diarrhoea had claimed several lives at the hospital in recent weeks but those deaths could not be attributed to cholera as not all those cases of diarrhoea had been checked and tested for cholera.

“But I can confirm that all the patients who were found to be infected with cholera after stool culture survived as they were provided timely treatment, which include fluid replacement and administration of modern antibiotics,” Prof Saleem explained as he blamed contaminated water supply in the city as the major cause of cholera outbreak.

Confirming the outbreak of cholera in Karachi, a health expert at the AKUH said they were seeing cholera cases for last several weeks and an unusually higher number of diarrhoea and cholera cases were being reported from different parts of the city. “We are witnessing cholera for last five years but there is an unusual increase in the diarrhoea and cholera cases. The month of March 2022 was the worst month in the recent years in terms of cholera cases as we haven’t seen such an unprecedented increase in the cases of cholera in such a short time,” said Dr Faisal Mehmood, an infectious diseases expert at the AKUH.

Cholera is an extremely virulent disease that can cause severe acute watery diarrhoea, Dr Mehmood said, adding that it can kill a person within hours if untreated. “A person having cholera loses several litres of water within a few hours and if fluids are not replaced timely, the infected person goes into renal failure and dies.”

The medical superintendent of the SIDH&RC, Abdul Wahid Rajput, also confirmed that they were receiving lab-confirmed cholera cases for last few weeks. He said that at least five children and an adult had tested positive for cholera at their health facility.

“All these cases were reported from the areas of Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Gulistan-e-Jauhar but a bulk of the cholera cases are being reported from the Old City area, which must be reporting at the Civil Hospital Karachi, Lyari General Hospital and some private hospitals in the area,” he opined.

Officials at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Islamabad, also confirmed that Karachi was facing a cholera outbreak and added that it was ‘ogawa strain’ of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which was a highly contagious strain and infected large populations within a short span of time. “An outbreak [of cholera] is reported in Karachi. We have asked DoH Sindh to share details. It’s Ogawa strain. The Sindh Health Department has not officially confirmed and communicated,” an official of the NIH said on requesting anonymity.

Govt’s denial

Contrary to the versions of experts from leading public and private health facilities in Karachi and the NIH in Islamabad, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho in a recent press conference stated that no lab-confirmed case of cholera had so far been found in Sindh, including Karachi.

“Although cases of diarrhoea are being reported in the province, including Karachi, no lab-confirmed case of cholera has been brought to my knowledge,” she told newsmen at a news conference a couple of days ago.