Health threats to displaced Pakistanis major concern for UN agencies

2 July 2009
Women visit UNFPA-supported clinic in Pakistan serving internally displaced persons (IDPs)

United Nations agencies have expressed their concerns about the health and welfare of the approximately 2 million displaced people living in north-west Pakistan, while also lauding the Pakistanis who have provided food, shelter and other resources to those in need.

“The everyday people of Pakistan are the real heroes of this current crisis in Pakistan,” Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, told a news conference in the capital, Islamabad. “They set an inspiring example of extraordinary generosity for the whole world.”

He said he hoped this example is followed by the governments of the world, whose continued urgent support is desperately needed to help those uprooted from their homes by fighting between Government forces and militants in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Most of the displaced are living with host communities, and the health-care, sanitation and water systems in the affected areas are under enormous strain.

“There are major challenges facing the displaced and those people still caught in the conflict area, for example in the Swat Valley and other conflict zones, where health facilities have been damaged or destroyed,” said Eric Laroche, Assistant Director General of the Health Action in Crises Cluster of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

He cited diarrhoea, acute respiratory infections, measles, surgical emergencies and mental trauma as some of the most severe threats to people’s health, and highlighted the need for more medicines, equipment and staff, particularly female workers.

Despite these challenges, Dr. Laroche pointed out that over 30 potential communicable disease outbreaks have been investigated by the disease early warning system led by WHO. All of them have been quickly controlled by aid agencies working in the health sector.

Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has voiced concern about the situation of women and children caught up in the crisis, especially those who have remained behind in areas of conflict.

UNICEF’s Louis-Georges Arsenault told reporters that while the full extent of their situation is not yet understood, it is believed they have been living under “intolerable circumstances without proper access to clean, potable water, medical services and food.”

According to the agency, more than 60 per cent of those displaced are children under the age of 18, who are in critical need of, among others, health and educational services, nutritional support, water and sanitation.

 

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