Intended for healthcare professionals


More than 100 000 children under 5 are at risk of death in Pakistan

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 24 September 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5288
  1. Helen Mooney
  1. 1London

    Six weeks after the first of the floods hit Pakistan, food, fresh water, and shelter are still in desperately short supply, and the country is facing a deteriorating humanitarian crisis.

    An estimated 21 million people have been affected by the floods, half of whom have been left homeless, and thousands of children are at risk of starvation.

    The floods have left vast swathes of people living in tent cities, relying on aid and handouts, and many of those affected say they have been turned away from camps by charities overwhelmed by the tide of dispossessed people. They are now struggling to cope with lack of food and disease.

    However, doctors have warned that the real catastrophe is moving much slower than the flood waters: more than 100 000 children under the age of 5 years are at risk of dying in the next six months from severe malnutrition.

    A report published on 20 September by the Pakistan Health Cluster, which represents Pakistan’s Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and a number of aid agencies, warns of the urgent need to prevent further health crises. It says that diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea are starting to spread widely and that there has been a marked rise in the number of cases of infant malnutrition.

    The latest WHO figures show that between 30% and 50% of children arriving at healthcare facilities are showing symptoms of acute malnutrition.

    WHO’s representative to Pakistan, Guido Sabatinelli, warned that “increasing cases of communicable diseases . . . fears about children being malnourished, the massive disruption to health care and crop systems, and rising food insecurity are the main health threats facing Pakistan’s flood affected people.”

    Pakistan’s health challenges and the humanitarian response plan were set out in the Pakistan floods emergency response plan launched earlier this month. The plan is seeking $200m (£130m; €150m) to fund 94 health sector projects run by WHO and its cluster partners.

    Eric Laroche, WHO’s assistant director general for health action in crises, said, “The objective of WHO and our health partners in Pakistan is to reduce avoidable death and illness through a range of lifesaving interventions for all people—men, women, and children.

    “While concentrating on the ongoing crisis, we are also, in parallel, working to rebuild a devastated health system and respond to the major life threatening health risks, such as acute diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, malaria, measles, and maternal and neonatal illness and death.”

    WHO says that acute diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, skin diseases, and suspected malaria remain the leading causes of people seeking health care in the flood affected areas.

    Although acute respiratory tract infections are the leading cause of morbidity, the number of cases of suspected malaria is rising fast. On 23 September WHO reported that the number of cases accounted for 17% of consultations in Baluchistan province and 13% in Sindh province.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5288


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