Water and food-borne diseases including gastroenteritis, viral hepatitis (AE), typhoid and paratyphoid fever, cholera, dysentery, E-coli diarrhoea, giardiasis and intestinal worms, malaria, poliomyelitis and rotavirus diarrhoea in infants – the 2nd major cause of childhood deaths – continue to haunt population in the region since the setting-in of hot and humid weather in this region of the country.
Data collected by ‘The News’ has revealed that every third patient visiting the three allied hospitals in town is with some of the water or food-borne disease and the number is continuously on the rise. Many health experts believe that the situation may get worse in the coming days if effective prevention and control measures are not taken seriously by both the individuals and the concerned government authorities. The allied hospitals in town have been receiving not less than 4,000 patients with gastroenteritis every week for the last one-and-a-half months. An outbreak of gastroenteritis (also known as gastro) has already hit several localities in the region and the number of patients is still on the rise. It is important that water pollution has become a real threat to public health in Pakistan. The most common sources of water contamination are a result of human activity such as discharges from factories, leaky/rusty underground water pipelines, cross-connections between water supply lines and sewerage drainage pipelines, improperly treated sewage disposal, agricultural chemicals and pesticides, trickling and seeping into underground water aquifers and unclean storage tanks.
According to Head of Community Medicine at CMH Lahore Medical College Colonel (r) Professor Dr Muhammad Ashraf Chaudhry, water in many cities of Pakistan is unsafe for human consumption due to both bacterial and chemical contamination. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not have a national drinking water policy even after 69 years of its independence. Not less than 1.2 million people die each year due to water-borne diseases. Among these, well over 250,000 children are under the age of five who succumb to diarrhoea, mainly caused by the use of untreated water. The water-borne illnesses account for nearly 60 per cent of child deaths in Pakistan with approximate 630 children dying daily from diarrhoea.
Dr. Ashraf believes that over 80 per cent of population in Pakistan drinks contaminated water. Every day, nine out of ten times, the glass of water turns out to be ‘unfit for human consumption’ as the situation of public water sources, storage tanks, distribution channels etc has become horrifying. Studies reveal that in Pakistan, 80 per cent of infectious and parasitic diseases are related to contaminated water while people suffering from water-borne diseases occupy 25 per cent of hospital beds in monsoon.
On guidelines for water pollution control authorities and the community in order to curb the incidence of water-borne diseases, Dr. Ashraf said that water must be protected from pollution before drinking and sterilized by boiling or chlorination as ground water becomes contaminated due to frequent rains. “Water that is to be consumed must be brought to ‘rolling boil’ for 5-10 minutes before cooling,” he said.