The Disasters Emergency Committee has expressed grave concern following reports of cholera in Pakistan's Swat Valley. With floodwaters affecting a fifth of the country, and stretching for more than 600 miles, the DEC warned that millions of people are at risk of potentially deadly water borne diseases.
Disasters Emergency Committee Chief Executive Brendan Gormley said:
"We are extremely concerned by reports of cholera in the Swat valley. The numbers reportedly affected so far appear to be small but cholera causes acute watery diarrhoea which allows it to spread very quickly in cramped, unhygienic conditions.
"Aid workers greatly fear cholera after a disaster because, without treatment, more than half those infected are likely to die.
"Cholera can be prevented by providing clean drinking water, good sanitation and rapid treatment of those affected.
"Our member agencies will be redoubling their efforts to improve the provision of clean water and sanitation to the huge number of people affected by the flooding. Any outbreaks of highly infectious diarrhoeal diseases need to be contained as quickly as possible in order to prevent further deaths."
Millions of survivors are currently struggling without access to safe water, more than two weeks after the disaster first struck. Merlin, a member agency of the DEC, has seen a significant rise in cases of acute watery diarrhoea throughout the worst affected areas, particularly in young children. With as many as 20% of patients in some areas affected.
Linda Doull, Director of Health and Policy at Merlin, said:
"If left untreated, the rapid loss of fluids caused by acute watery diarrhoea, such as with cholera, can prove fatal within hours.
"We need to ensure patients have access to medical staff, that enough diarrhoea treatment units are set up swiftly and that the delivery of safe water is made an absolute priority.
"Most cholera cases can be effectively and easily treated with oral rehydration salts, costing just 3p per sachet."
UN officials have said there have been 86,000 suspected cases of acute watery diarrhoea reported so far. Acute watery diarrhoea is one of the main symptoms of cholera although it can also be caused by other water borne diseases.
DEC MEMBER AGENCY EFFORTS TO TREAT AND PREVENT WATERBORNE DISEASES INCLUDE:
- Oxfam has provided clean water for over 150,000 people by fixing water systems and trucking clean water supplies. As well as purchasing aid in- country, they have sent 19,000 water purification tablets, 455 latrine slabs/squatting plates and six de-watering kits (pumps for cleaning contaminated wells).
- Merlin has delivered 4,000 packets of water purification tablets - enough to make 400,000 litres of safe drinking water - 48,000 packs of oral rehydration salts and 20,000 doses of antibiotics to help fight the rising number of diarrhoeal disease and other infections. They are also setting up 3 Diarrhoea Treatment Units in three districts, capable of treating 300 patients at any one time.
- Save the Children has established a diarrhoea treatment center in Swat for children and adults, and is distributing hygiene kits, and conducting hygiene promotion to prevent rise in water-borne diseases like acute watery diarrhoea.
- Concern have given clean drinking water to 12,400 in Swat and Charsadda.
To make a donation to the DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal call the 24 hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit www.dec.org.uk or donate over the counter at any post office or high street bank, or send a cheque. You can also donate £5 by texting the word GIVE to 70707 - see details below.
Anyone wanting to stay up to date with developments in Pakistan, the emergency response and the fundraising efforts can follow the DEC on twitter at http://twitter.com/decappeal or become a fan of 'Disasters-Emergency-Committee-DEC' on Facebook.
Notes to editors:
- To make a postal donation make cheques payable to 'DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal' and mail to 'PO Box 999, London, EC3A 3AA'
- Donations can be made at any high street bank.
- To donate at a Post Office quote Freepay 1384.
- To donate £5 by text send the word GIVE to 70707. A standard network rate charge will apply.
- The DEC consists of: Action Aid, Age UK, British Red Cross, CAFOD, CARE International UK, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, Islamic Relief, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, Tearfund, World Vision.
CHOLERA FACT SHEET
What causes cholera and why is it so dangerous?
- Cholera is a bacterium that spreads through infected water or food.
- The disease causes acute watery diarrhoea, which can lead to life-threatening dehydration within hours.
- Patients can lose up to 10 litres of fluid a day.
- Where people are living in cramped, unsanitary conditions without proper toilets or clean drinking water, the disease can spread incredibly quickly.
- The incubation period is very short which means people start to become ill very quickly after being infected.
- People with low immunity - such as malnourished children - are at greater risk of contracting the disease and succumbing to it.
- If cholera takes hold in an already vulnerable population it can kill up to 50-60% of those infected if they do not receive prompt treatment.
How can cholera be prevented?
- Adequate sanitation - ensuring toilets don't leak and are a safe distance from drinking water sources.
- Delivery of safe drinking water.
- Good food and personal hygiene.
- Chlorination of contaminated water sources where possible.
- Public health education and promotion.
- Oral vaccines are also available but are not the best first line of defence against the spread of cholera during an emergency.
How is cholera treated?
- Speed of treatment is the key to survival. If cholera is treated quickly and effectively, the mortality rate is less than 1%, but if left untreated the rate can jump to 50-60%.
- Most cases can be easily treated with Oral Rehydration salts, costing just 3p per sachet.
- Intravenous drips can be used to rehydrate patients in the most extreme case.
- Antibiotics can also be used but are not necessary for most patients so long as they are receiving rehydration treatment.