The number of patients with waterborne diseases visiting health facilities, including public hospitals, from areas where floodwater has receded has increased significantly, said government health officials, worried about a potential outbreak of such diseases soon.
The average number of daily patients with waterborne diseases visiting outpatient departments at public hospitals in Sylhet division has gone up by nearly 70 per cent, according to an estimate provided by the divisional health office.
Some hospitals saw the number of admitted patients with waterborne diseases double despite strengthening the campaign for distributing water purifying tablets and oral saline across the division to prevent an outbreak of the diseases.
Many upazila health complexes, often operating without power and drinking water supply, are overwhelmed with patients, spilling over to their corridors, while general patients who had withheld treatment because of the flooding also started thronging the health facilities.
The flood death toll, meanwhile, climbed to 82 on Saturday from 73 the day before. The deaths occurred between May 17 and June 25. ‘The rise in waterborne diseases cannot still be called an outbreak. But we fear an outbreak once the floodwater completely receded,’ said Ahmed Hossain, civil surgeon, Sunamganj, the district worst-hit by the flood so far.
In the 24-hour reporting period until 8:00am on Saturday, Sunamganj district saw 100 people get admitted to public hospitals with diarrhoea, double the usual number, according to the civil surgeon office.
The number of patients with skin diseases visiting public hospital outpatient departments also increased while the number of children with fever and cold rose steadily, health officials in Sylhet and Sunamganj said.
Vast swaths of north-eastern Bangladesh, including many areas in Sylhet town, still remained submerged in floodwater as rivers drained very slowly, leaving tens of thousands of people stranded.
As many as 2,66,818 people are still living at 1,517 flood shelters in the four districts of Sylhet division, often with meagre or no food and drinking water. A vast majority of the flood-affected people, even in cities and towns of the affected districts and their upazilas, are drinking floodwater as drinking water sources are lying still submerged or polluted by the flood.
‘Fever patients are also on the rise. It may be because of increasing Covid infection or of unsafe drinking water,’ said Saikul Islam, resident medical officer, upazila health complex, Jagannathpur, Sunamganj. The Jagannathpur upazila health complex were attending to 18 diarrhoea patients, double the usual number, as of 5:00pm on Saturday despite several daily releases.
The 50-bed upazila health complex had patients admitted more than its capacity with many of them lying on the floor. Ten days into the beginning of the monsoon deluge, the divisional public health engineering office still did not know how many tube wells, the main source of drinking water in rural Bangladesh, went under floodwater, let alone restore their potability after they come out of water.
Only seven mobile water treatment plants, with a capacity of purifying 600 litres of water per hour, have been deployed in Sylhet division, four of them in Sylhet district. Public hospitals in Sylhet division usually treated 150 to 160 patients with waterborne diseases daily but the number shot up to 250 on Saturday, he said.
The flood-affected poor people, mostly subsistence farmers, have been left more vulnerable to diseases than before by the flood as they had very little to eat since it hit on June 16, further weakening their already weak immunity.
For such an overwhelming number of flood-affected people in the north-east, only 3,563 tonnes of rice, 59,894 packets of dry food, 16.65 lakh water purifying tablets and Tk 4.25 crore in cash were distributed. Health officials said that medical teams were visiting flood shelters, where men, women, children and livestock were crammed, often without access to safe drinking water and sanitation, to keep waterborne diseases in check.
The divisional health office is distributing oral saline and water purifying tablets through their employees at union level and local government channels. Meanwhile, electricity could not be restored to seven of the 11 upazilas of Sunamganj as of Saturday.