The worst floods on record in Pakistan are placing the health of hundreds of thousands of people at risk, with a high threat of waterborne disease outbreaks and immense damage to health facilities. WHO is coordinating the response of health partners and supporting Pakistani authorities by sending medicines and related health supplies capable of treating more than 200 000 people to the affected areas in the northwestern region of the country.

Major health concerns at the moment are the control of waterborne diseases, including diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections, treating the injured, helping to ensure the quality of clean drinking water and ensuring public access to health facilities with the emphasis on increasing the number of female health workers.

Many health facilities destroyed

About 46 of Pakistan's 135 districts have been affected by the flooding. At least 39 health facilities have been destroyed, resulting in a loss of tons of medicines. There is a tremendous need for more medical and related materials to treat people affected by the humanitarian emergency, as well as to immunize children, particularly against polio and measles.

Static and mobile medical teams are providing outreach services to affected areas especially with maternal, neonatal and child health, nutrition and psychosocial support. By the end of 2 August, dozens of mobile teams and fixed health facilities had treated more than 15 000 patients, many of whom were suffering from diarrhoea.

WHO response

WHO is working with the Pakistani Ministry of Health, National Disaster Management Authority, Provincial Departments of Health as well as partner healthcare providers within the Health Cluster network of international and local organizations. A disease outbreak early warning system is active and, as yet, no outbreaks of diseases have been confirmed, however concern of the disease outbreaks remains high.

WHO has sent large shipments of medicines and supplies to treat people for diarrhoea, respiratory infections, wounds, and other health conditions. To ensure people have access to clean, safe supplies of drinking water, WHO has also provided 102 000 aqua tablets and 4600 water purifying sachets to health facilities in Peshawar and Nowshera.

Unmet needs

But the scale of the emergency means more medical supplies will be needed. Other urgent needs identified by an initial assessment conducted by UN agencies include:

* providing psychosocial support to the affected population;

* hygiene promotion interventions – providing water purification tablets, safe water, water chlorination;

* tents for temporary health facilities;

* strengthening the referral system to higher levels of health care; and

* vaccination campaigns.