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UN responds to malaria outbreak in flood-affected Pakistani provinces

12 October 2010 – Nearly 300,000 suspected malaria cases, including some confirmed cases of a severe form of the disease, have been recorded in flood-affected areas of Pakistan since the end of July, with the overall incidence slightly above the average seasonal outbreak, the United Nations health agency said today.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the Pakistan health ministry’s malaria control programme, as well as aid agencies working in the health sector, to control the epidemic. The agency is coordinating the deployment of preventive and curative measures.

Malaria is endemic in rural areas of Pakistan where there are two seasonal peaks – in August, when the milder vivax-malaria is mostly seen, and October, when the potentially fatal falciparum-malaria is common.

More than one million malaria cases are registered annually, but 12 per cent of people living in rural areas are infected by malaria parasite without showing symptoms of the disease.

Balochistan province has recorded the largest number of consultations for suspected malaria, while an increasing number of cases are also being reported in Punjab and Sindh provinces, according to WHO’s Disease Early Warning System and the ministry of health.

The rising number of cases is the result of the floods that have displaced millions of people, forcing many into poor shelter where they are exposed to mosquito bites. Pools of stagnant water are ideal breeding sites for Anopheles mosquitoes, the malaria vector.

“The total number of suspected malaria cases reported in flood-affected districts is only slightly higher than at the same period in previous years. However, falciparum-malaria needs special consideration as it is responsible for severe cases and it can be fatal,” said Guido Sabatinelli, the WHO Representative in Pakistan.

Communicable disease surveillance of all epidemic-prone diseases has been strengthened and malaria experts are currently visiting Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan provinces to assist the health ministry in conducting outbreak investigation, training and other malaria control activities.

The United States Agency for International Development has donated $5 million, through WHO, for malaria prevention and control activities in flood-affected districts of Pakistan.

As part of its response, WHO has provided 320,700 rapid diagnostic tests kits and procured 145,000 long-lasting insecticidal nets. The agency last week dispatched 55,000 Arthemisine-based combination treatments (ACT) for falciparum-malaria and 30,000 primaquine tablets to treat vivax-malaria.



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