As flood waters recede, a rising tide of disease in southwest Pakistan

Internally displaced flood-affected people gather in a medical camp in a flood-hit area following heavy rains in Dera Allah Yar town in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province, on September 6, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 30 September 2022

As flood waters recede, a rising tide of disease in southwest Pakistan

  • 38,476 cases of malaria, skin and eye diseases, acute respiratory infection and cholera reported in Balochistan since Sept. 17, 2022
  • Influx of patients has overwhelmed Pakistan’s weak health system, particularly in Balochistan, country’s poorest province

Dera Allah Yar, BALOCHISTAN: As Yar Khan stood outside the outpatient ward at the District Headquarter Hospital (DHQ) in a small town in southwestern Pakistan, it was not his own stomach ache that worried him but the high fever that had for days gripped his one-year-old nephew.

Khan’s family fears the infant has one of the many infectious and water-borne diseases that have spread in the aftermath of devastating monsoon rains and floods in Pakistan.

Record rains in south and southwest Pakistan that began in mid-June and glacial melt in northern areas triggered the flooding that has killed over 1,600 people and affected nearly 33 million people in the South Asian nation of 220 million, sweeping away homes, crops, bridges, roads and livestock and causing an estimated $30 billion of damage.

Weeks after the rains stopped, large swaths of the country’s southwestern Balochistan and southern Sindh provinces remain flooded, and millions of survivors, many living in tents, makeshift shelters or under the open sky on road sides, face a host of other problems, including diseases like diarrhea, skin infections, coughs and colds, government and relief officials say.

The presence of mosquitoes and the spread of the diseases they carry, like dengue fever and malaria, have become particularly concerning.

Data from the Balochistan health department showed around 38,476 cases of malaria, skin diseases, acute respiratory infection (ARI), cholera and eye infections have been reported in Balochistan since September 17, 2022. The World Health Organization warned on Thursday a “full-scale operation” was needed in Balochistan to stem the tide of disease.

The influx of new patients daily has overwhelmed Pakistan’s already weak health system, particularly in Balochistan, the country’s poorest and least developed province.

“I have taken him to all the doctors in my village but my nephew didn’t get well,” Khan, 21, told Arab News from Dera Allah Yar city in Balochistan’s Jaffarabad division, where he had traveled from his village of Chatan, still “neck deep” in water, six kilometers away.

“Now I have brought him to the DHQ Hospital and traveled through flood water to reach Dera Allah Yar,” the daily wage laborer added.

“For too many days I have been feeling pain in my stomach,” Khan added. “I visited all doctors in my village but they were unable to diagnose what is causing my pain and why my nephew is sick.”

“In the three or four houses of my relatives, everyone is ill.”

Tania Bibi, 20, a resident of Karam Shah Goth in Dera Allah Yar, was diagnosed with a skin disease ten days ago. But her illness is the least of her worries, she said, as her four children are all ill.

“It’s been a month, we have been living on the Dera Allah Yar highway which is surrounded by contaminated flood water,” Bibi told Arab News. “There are too many mosquitoes and insects.”

She lightly touched the spots on her face: “The pimples popped up after the flood. It used to hurt a lot, it still hurts, it’s still the same.”

Bibi said her daughters and one son had been diagnosed with malaria and anemia respectively and now another son had high fever.

Doctors at DHQ Dera Allah Yar had prescribed medicines for the whole family but Bibi, whose husband is an out-of-work daily wage laborer, said she did not have money to buy them.

The hospital itself is struggling to deal with the influx of patients from surrounding areas.

“We have a shortage of medicines and staff to deal with the overburden of patients at the DHQ Hospital,” Dr. Ishma Khoso, a senior medical officer at the DHQ Dera Allah Yar, said. “Because people from Sohbat Pur district and other far-flung areas are now coming here for treatment.”

“The same water, animals are standing in it and using it, and now people are using it to wash clothes and dishes and perhaps drinking it as well,” Khoso said, adding that the hospital was facing a “200 percent increase in the number of patients suffering from water-borne diseases.”

Dr. Imran Baloch, a medical superintendent at the hospital, said at least 12 newborn babies were being regularly treated for ARI at the facility, and the number was steadily rising, creating challenges for doctors.

“There used to be 400 patients regularly coming to the hospital but now 900 plus patients are coming [daily],” Baloch said, “so we are having a lot of difficulty in managing them.”

Umar Khan Jamali, a legislator from Jaffarabad district, called the flood “one of the most severe natural disasters in the history of Pakistan,” saying no government was capable of coping with natural catastrophes on this large scale.

“The government of Pakistan and Balochistan have made international calls for assistance but unfortunately we didn’t receive any positive response, particularly in the health crisis that surfaced after the flood,” Jamali told Arab News. “The provincial health department has been utilizing all its available resources to ensure quality health services to the flood affected people.”

Meanwhile, people like Khan and his family wait for help.

“I want my nephew to be treated by senior doctors here,” Khan said, “but due to a large number of patients in the hospital, we are facing delays in medical treatment. Despite sitting outside the OPD for five hours, I am still waiting for my turn to see a doctor.”

Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan PM meets new army chief, lauds military's professional abilities

  • Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tells General Asim Munir it is a huge honor to lead the Pakistan Army
  • The PM hopes the armed forces will protect the country’s security better under its new leadership

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif praised the military’s professional abilities while holding a meeting with the new army chief Syed Asim Munir on Wednesday, saying it was a huge honor for anyone to lead the armed forces of Pakistan which were tirelessly working for the country’s security.

This was Munir’s first meeting with the prime minister after taking over the army’s command in a ceremony held at the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi on Tuesday. He replaced General Qamar Javed Bajwa who retired from the post after leading the army for six years.

“We have full confidence in the professional capabilities of the Pakistan Army,” the prime minister was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office after the meeting.

“It is a great honor to lead the Pakistan Army,” he said while addressing the top general. “It is hoped that the armed forces under your leadership will deal with the challenges facing the country’s security in a better way.”

Sharif congratulated Munir on taking charge of his new position.

He maintained the whole nation was proud of the army’s role in protecting the frontiers of the country and fighting violent extremism and militancy.

The army has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its 75-year history, either through coups or as an invisible guiding hand in politics.

Munir’s appointment coincides with a dispute between the army and former premier Imran Khan, who blames top military generals for playing a part in his ouster in a parliamentary no-trust vote earlier this year.

Khan also expressed hope earlier in the day the new military leadership would end the “prevailing trust deficit” between the army and the public.

The PM Office said in its statement Sharif’s meeting with the army chief focused on professional issues related to the country’s defense and security.

Munir also met President Arif Alvi during the day.

In a separate meeting, Alvi discussed defense related matters with the new Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee General Sahir Shamshad Mirza.

Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi (right) meets army chief Syed Asim Munir in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (PID)


Gas blast at Pakistan coal mine kills nine workers, injures four

Updated 30 November 2022

Gas blast at Pakistan coal mine kills nine workers, injures four

  • Coal deposits are found in the northwestern Orakzai district that sits on the Afghan border
  • Mine workers say lack of safety gear, poor working conditions are key causes of accidents

PESHAWAR: A gas blast at a coal mine killed nine workers in a northwestern Pakistani district on Wednesday, a government official said, and a team investigating the incident said gas sparks had caused the explosion.

There were 13 workers in the mine at the time and nine bodies were recovered, said Adnan Farid, the area deputy commissioner.

The remaining four miners were rescued from the rubble and have suffered critical injuries, he said.

A government team from the mineral development department inspected the site of the incident and said the explosion took place "due to gas sparks inside the mine," Orakzai district police chief Nazeer Khan told Reuters.

A government report seen by Reuters said the blast caused the collapse of the mine, and that gas build-up had triggered the blast. It didn't specify what type of gas it was.

Coal deposits are found in the northwestern Orakzai district that sits on the Afghan border and mine accidents are common, mainly due to gas build-ups.

Mine workers have complained that a lack of safety gear and poor working conditions are the key causes of frequent accidents, labor union officials have said in the past.

At exhibition celebrating UAE National Day, envoy says Pakistan ties ‘unique in region’

Updated 30 November 2022

At exhibition celebrating UAE National Day, envoy says Pakistan ties ‘unique in region’

  • The photo exhibition highlighted 51 years of friendship between the UAE and Pakistan
  • Al-Zaabi expressed optimism about the trajectory of relations between the two countries

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Pakistan are destined to take their relations to new heights, said the envoy of the Arab country, Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi, while visiting a photo exhibition in Islamabad on Wednesday.

The exhibition that highlighted 51 years of friendship between the two states is part of a string of events organized to celebrate the UAE national day that falls on December 2.

Students of Sheikh Zayed International Academy, Islamabad, sang the national anthem of the Arab country and performed traditional dance to celebrate the occasion.

“We are always optimistic about the future of bilateral relations with Pakistan and see this relation jump to a different level,” Al-Zaabi said while addressing the ceremony.

UAE Ambassador to Pakistan Hamad Obaid Al-Zaabi (3rd from left) inaugurates a photo exhibition in connection with the 51st UAE national day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

He maintained the UAE national day was always a major occasion that meant a great deal to the citizens of his country. He also expressed his gratitude to all the students for participating in the program and making it memorable through their performance.

Al-Zaabi said Pakistan and the UAE enjoyed a strong and historic relationship which was spread over 51 years of shared cooperation.

“We always look at this relation as unique in the region,” he continued. “There are feelings of trust between the people and leaders of the two brotherly countries.”
The UAE envoy said his country looked to future generations through educational cooperation.

“Under Sheikh Zayed International Academy, students from different nationalities and cultures have come here to celebrate the UAE national day with our culture which is really important for all of us,” he added.

Students of Sheikh Zayed International Academy are performing to celebrate the 51st UAE national day in Islamabad, Pakistan, on November 30, 2022. (AN Photo)

Speaking on the occasion, former president of the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industries Sardar Yasir Ilyas said Pakistan could learn a great deal from the UAE, including how to strengthen its tourism industry.

“Tourism has made the UAE a hub of international attention and Pakistan should learn from [UAE’s] experience to tap its vast potential in this field,” he added.

Pakistan Navy seizes thousands of kilograms of drugs in Arabian Sea

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan Navy seizes thousands of kilograms of drugs in Arabian Sea

  • Pakistan is part of a transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade
  • Navy says its ships located and effectively intercepted two ‘suspicious’ dhows

KARACHI: In an operation in the North Arabian Sea, two Pakistan Navy ships seized approximately 5,800 kilograms of drugs valued at approximately Rs8.6 billion, a spokesperson for the navy said on Wednesday.

Pakistan, like India, is part of a transit route in the lucrative drug smuggling trade, due to its proximity to Afghanistan, the world’s largest producer of opium, from which heroin is made.

“Successful counter narcotics operation was conducted by two Pakistan Navy Ships in Arabian Sea in which a large cache of drugs has been apprehended,” the navy said in a statement.

“While conducting Maritime Security Operations in North Arabian Sea, Naval Ships located and effectively intercepted two suspicious dhows. Upon scrutiny of these boats, a large quantity of drugs that valued approximately Rs. 8.6 billion in international market was seized.”

The navy said both dhows have been handed over to law enforcement agencies. It did not specify what types of drugs were seized or how many people were arrested on board the two dhows.

“The successful operation by Pakistan Navy to seize huge quantity of narcotics reaffirms the resolve and commitment of PN to fulfill national and international obligations for maintaining good order at sea,” the statement said. “Pakistan Navy is vigilant to counter any illegal activity and safeguard its maritime borders.”

In October this year, Indian authorities arrested six Pakistani nationals and seized heroin worth tens of millions of dollars from a Pakistani fishing boat in the Arabian Sea near the western state of Gujarat.

Pakistan and England to finalize first Test match schedule on Thursday morning

Updated 30 November 2022

Pakistan and England to finalize first Test match schedule on Thursday morning

  • The commencement of the first Test match became doubtful after England players complained of stomach bug
  • A ceremony to unveil the series trophy had also to be postponed since England skipper was not in good health

ISLAMABAD: The top governing bodies of cricket in England and Pakistan will take a decision about the commencement of the first Test match between the two sides on Thursday after England players, including skipper Ben Stokes, complained of a stomach bug ahead of the contest in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

England arrived in Islamabad on Sunday for their first Test tour of Pakistan in 17 years after playing a seven-match Twenty20 series in the country two months ago. The two sides are scheduled to play three Test matches in December, though it is not clear if the series will begin as per schedule due to the health issues faced by the visiting team.

The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) announced in a Twitter post on Wednesday that its officials were in conversation with the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) over the commencement of the first Test match.

According to a statement subsequently released, the two boards “unanimously agreed to delay the decision” until Thursday morning on the basis of the health condition of the players.

“The two boards also agreed, subject to the England players not recovering well enough to take the field on Thursday morning, then the Test will commence on Friday and will be a five-day match,” the PCB statement added. “In this scenario, the schedule of the second Test in Multan and the third Test in Karachi will remain unaffected and will be played as per original schedule, i.e. 9-13 and 17-21 December, respectively.”

The captains of the two national teams were also supposed to unveil the Test series trophy on Wednesday, but the ceremony was postponed since the England skipper was not in a good shape.

“Several players and staff members, including England captain Ben Stokes, are feeling unwell and have been advised to stay at the hotel to rest up,” said an ECB statement.

According to media reports, about eight members of the England squad have been hit by the viral food poisoning, though the team brought its own chef after some players complained about food and fell ill during the T20 series.