16 Aug 10 28 Nov 16

Cholera - Preparing for the worst

Currently, the most common diseases seen in MSF clinics are linked to difficult living conditions and lack of water. According to Dr. Ahmad Mukhtar, medical coordinator for MSF in Pakistan, medical teams are seeing cases of skin infections, respiratory diseases and acute diarrhoea most frequently.

They are also treating people for what they suspect is cholera while they wait for confirmation. Cholera is endemic in some parts of Pakistan, so the confirmation of these cases would not be surprising. Cholera is a disease that is contracted by ingesting infected water or food. It spreads easily in unhygienic conditions. Once contracted, cholera prevents the body from retaining water, which causes rapid dehydration. It is easily treated by providing oral rehydration salts, or through intravenous drip for more severe cases. “A few suspected cases do not mean that we’re on the verge of an outbreak” said Dr. Ahmad Mukhtar. “We need to remain very vigilant and make sure that we keep identifying and treating people with acute diarrhoea as soon as possible. We treat people with acute diarrhoea exactly as if they had cholera. Our staff in mobile clinics and in hospitals play a vital role in identifying and following up possible cases in the community”.

Image Caption

Men set up an MSF water distribution point around villages near Charsadda, Pakistan. 8th August, 2010. Photo by Ton Koene/MSF.

In the event of an outbreak, MSF is ready to respond. The majority of health facilities where MSF is working have been stocked with emergency kits. Safe water provision and the distribution of hygiene kits and cooking sets will provide the necessary conditions to avoid the spread of diarrheal diseases like cholera, but also scabies, dysentery, typhoid and malaria.

Much more still needs to be done to provide people in the flood affected areas of Pakistan with basic relief; two weeks after the onset of the floods, too many people have still received too little assistance.

Click here to listen to Dr Ahmed Mukhtar Amin's interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, 16th August 2010