Long after the water recedes, a health crisis will continue – we must act now to minimise the loss of life.
The “monsoon on steroids” in Pakistan has brought unprecedented suffering to my country. A third of the nation is under water, while floods and landslides have killed more than 1,100 people and impacted approximately 33 million.
As part of the response, I have seen some of the hardest hit areas and spoken to people that have watched their families, houses and livestock wash away. They are in desperate need of shelter, clean water, food, sanitation and medicine.
Immediate health threats include diarrheal diseases like cholera, skin infections and mosquito borne viruses like dengue and malaria. Missed vaccination campaigns also increase the potential for deadly outbreaks of preventable diseases like measles and polio.
The World Health Organization noted that more than 850 health facilities have been damaged in the country – 180 completely destroyed, which means there is no way for people to access the health services and medicine that they need.
The immediate priority is to get essential services to those affected by the floods. Aid agencies, emergency services, and the military are all playing a critical role in reaching communities cut off and with so many health facilities damaged, mobile clinics will be key to saving lives and helping the injured.
Mobilising the polio infrastructure and assets are also critical. The polio surveillance system is a major asset to identifying disease outbreaks and key to prevention and control. The workforce that is so key to getting life saving vaccines to children, is also a critical asset that we can utilise to deliver lifesaving resources like aqua tablets to communities so that they can drink clean water.
As a Cabinet member responsible for social protection, I led the setting up of a shock response registry and a payment system as part of Pakistan’s welfare state programme – called Ehsaas – to preposition emergency cash transfers for exactly this type of emergency.
With many people affected by the floods living in temporary camps, we can mobilise health services and deliver packages of assistance to the people that need them most. From cash transfers, to making sure children are up to date with their vaccines and adults vulnerable to Covid-19 are vaccinated and boosted; it’s important for coordination so that those in need get the right support quickly.
Long after the water recedes, this health crisis will continue and with heightened risk of further climate shocks, investment in social care and health infrastructure will be key to building a more resilient system for the future. Also, investing in exhausted health workers must be a priority so that their number increases, and they’re offered training.
While everyone is rightly focused on the emergency at hand, it’s important that when the world’s attention drifts, leaders in politics and health do not miss the opportunity to shock proof the foundations of health and invest toward universal health coverage.
At the international level, we need support now. International agencies like WHO and Unicef and NGO’s have a major role to play in helping better coordinate the response. Financing is also critical, important for governments – especially those that have been historically high emitters – to dig deep and in one of Pakistan’s darkest hours. I also ask the diaspora in the UK and across the world to follow boxer Amir Khan in committing to funds set up to help the most marginalised.
Finally, mental health illness is likely to skyrocket as many of those affected are already living through shock and post-traumatic stress is inevitable. For children this can be particularly damaging, which is why it’s important to set up safe spaces, so children have a place to play and learn, and some level of structure and normality returns quickly.
Pakistan has been hit hard by the climate crisis, which it did little to create. The next few days may see the emergency get even worse. I count on everyone to do their bit and support the effort to save lives now.
Today it’s my country, but tomorrow it may be yours.
About the author:
Dr Sania Nishtar is a Senator in Pakistan.
Source: The Telegraph