Gastrointestinal diseases have spread rapidly in Sindh, impacting the health and wellbeing of children in Karachi
massive cholera outbreak was recently reported in Dera Bugti, Balochistan. Over 300,000 children are suffering from dysentry and severe diarrhoea in Balochistan and parts of Sindh. There have been over 25,000 cases of stomach disease and 2,500 cases of dysentery in Karachi alone, leading to large scale hospitalisation. Children as young as under 5 are being hospitalised, with the majority of cases reported in Karachi South, where 6,000 patients are being treated in hospitals.
A large number of children have been suffering from stomach infections in Badin, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Hyderabad, Dadu, Thatta, Sujawal and Jamshoro. People are facing an acute water shortage in these areas, which has been exacerbated by the heat wave. They resort to use of polluted subsoil water that is unfit for consumption.
According to the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), over 250 children are treated for diarrhoea and cholera on a daily basis, a majority of them under the age of 5. The Health Department states that due to the use of unsanitary water, lack of hygiene and the heat wave, Sindh has become a hotbed for the spread of stomach infections.
Health experts claim that in some parts of Karachi, sewerage water is mixed with clean water lines, causing people to get sick, as they do not boil the water before consuming it.
“Three of my children have been suffering from upset stomachs and high fever for 10 days now. I took them to a private hospital, which was very expensive, but it was the only way to save their lives,” says Anis, a resident of Bahadurabad. He tells The News on Sunday that government hospitals are overrun with patients and he waited for four hours but his children did not get treated. “There is no space in Karachi’s government hospitals for children. There is a massive rush of patients,” Anis concludes.
Mirpurkhas, Tharparkar, Umerkot, Nagarparkar, Sukkur, Khairpur, Ghotki, Larkana, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Kambar, Shikarpur, Shaheed Benazirabad, Sanghar and Nushero Feroz have also had dysentery outbreaks. Karachi’s South district has been hit rather hard over the last two months.
“I had to spend 8,000 rupees on medication alone for my daughter’s stomach infection. Doctors in private hospitals charge a lot of money and prescribe high potency medication to children, which can be harmful. But we have no choice when it comes to saving their lives”
Directorate General of Health Services states in its report that there have been 103,724 patients with non-infectious stomach issues below the age of 5, and 114,584 patients over the age of 5 are being treated in government hospitals in Sindh.
Residents in most of Sindh are facing an acute shortage of clean drinking water. People living on the coastline of Thatta, Badin, and Sujawal districts are heavily affected. The consumption of saline water in Jacobabad has led to several health issues as well.
According to Dr Jamal Raza, a senior doctor at the NICH, gastrointestinal issues are nothing new, and that they usually peak during the summer. “Unsafe drinking water is a major contributor towards diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera. Gastrointestinal issues are common amongst children in Karachi. Sub-par children’s formula is also a contributing factor for stomach infections amongst toddlers. People should consume fresh food, fruits and boiled water to combat cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery,” he advises.
“When I took my daughter to a government hospital in Liaquatabad, she did not receive treatment due to a massive rush of patients. I had to spend 8,000 rupees on medication alone for my daughter’s stomach infection. Doctors in private hospitals charge a lot of money and prescribe high potency medication to children, which can be harmful. But we have no choice when it comes to saving their lives,” says Sameena Javed, a resident of Hussainabad.
According to Dr Qaiser Sajjad, the Pakistan Medical Association general secretary, cholera is a complicated disease and needs proper medical testing for diagnosis. “People should especially avoid consuming soft drinks being sold at roadside stalls and dhabas near school and colleges. Seasonal diseases are often transmitted through unhygienic food and drinks,” he says. Dr Sajjad advises people to eat food prepared at home and avoid consumption of frozen food that has been in storage for a long time.
“The climate is changing and the hot weather brings with it a risk of dehydration. People need to increase their water intake to stay hydrated during the summer. Patients suffering from cholera, diarrhoea or dysentery should immediately consult a professional and seek treatment at the earliest opportunity,” explains Dr Sajjad.
Dr Sajjad has also called for a ban on the sale of unhygienic food and drinks near educational institutes to protect the children from gastrointestinal diseases.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5