Quake: Doctors rush to contain diarrhoea outbreak

Health workers rushed to contain an outbreak of acute diarrhoea among hundreds of earthquake survivors at a squalid tent camp, and the Pakistani army appealed to donors on Thursday for more blankets, clothes and food for the coming winter.

In Washington, United States President George Bush urged Americans to give more to help Pakistani quake victims, just as people around the world assisted the US when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast.

“Once again, the world is called to comfort those affected by a terrible natural catastrophe,” Bush said overnight at the White House along with US business executives heading an effort to raise money for quake victims.

The United Nations has said it urgently needs more than $42-million just to keep up aid efforts through November.

Pakistani army spokesperson Shaukat Sultan said on Thursday that there is no current shortage of food among quake victims, but that as weather turns cold in the coming weeks, they will need more grain, cooking oil, sugar, milk powder and tea—as well as more blankets and clothes.

“We need it urgently,” he said.

The magnitude-7,6 quake on October 8, centred in the divided Himalayan territory of Kashmir, destroyed the homes of more than three million people, and tent camps have grown in towns and cities across the quake zone, housing local residents and migrants from distant villages.

Most camps have been set up with official sanction and have sanitary facilities, but others grew haphazardly on vacant lots.

About 3 000 survivors have gravitated toward a soccer field next to the devastated university in Muzaffarabad, the main city in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir.

They live in dusty tents, many of them barely a metre apart, sharing a handful of clogged latrines and washing themselves above a stinking ditch full of stagnant water.

Humanity First, a German charity that provides health care at the camp, reported an alarming rise in acute diarrhoea cases, including dysentery, in the past week. Cuban doctors were helping them treat the sick.

Dr John Watson, of the World Health Organisation, said more than 200 such cases have been reported at the camp in the past week—none fatal.

He said a containment tent is being set up nearby on the site of the ruined university, new latrines are being dug and a better water supply provided.

Laboratory tests being conducted in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, are expected to take another three days to establish the outbreak’s cause.

Aid officials have warned that coming cold weather and squalid camp conditions could bring a new wave of deaths. About 87 000 people died from the quake itself in Pakistani territory, and another 1 350 in India’s portion of Kashmir.

Acute diarrhoea can be caused by many forms of bacteria or viruses that can spread in contaminated water.
It can lead to dangerous levels of dehydration and can indicate serious illnesses such as cholera, but World Health Organisation officials said there is no immediate evidence of that.—Sapa-AP

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