IRC Launches Project to Prevent Disease Outbreaks in Pakistan
The International Rescue Committee is developing an information system aimed at detecting and preventing epidemics in Pakistan’s immense Afghan refugee camps. It is hoped that this health information surveillance system, developed in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, can also be applied to other global emergency situations. IRC health staff have begun reporting data on mortality, morbidity, reproductive health, child spacing, specific diseases and primary health care from 138 IRC-supported health units in refugee camps and settlements in the Northwest Frontier, Balochistan and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. The camps have a refugee population of approximately 1.7 million. Pakistan’s total Afghan refugee population is approximately two million.
As IRC staff collects data on a disease, they would be the first to identify the location and extent of a disease outbreak, and send out an early warning if they detect cases of virulent diseases like tuberculosis, malaria and leishmaniasis, said Dr. Ishaq Mohmand, the IRC’s Peshawar-based project coordinator.
The WHO is currently using Health Information Systems data on leishmaniasis, a skin disfiguring disease currently epidemic in camps, to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the disease. The parasitic disease, locally known as Kala-Azar or the Black Curse, is spread by bloodsucking sand flies and effects the liver, spleen and bone marrow. Leishmaniasis was first detected in Pakistani refugee camps last year when new refugees from Afghanistan came after Sept. 11, and has since become rampant among refugees and has spread to local communities close to the camps. The disease can resemble leprosy and even when cured, may leave scars. Disease victims may also experience similar ostracization. Children are more exposed to the disease since the sand fly flies close to the ground and children easily get bitten on face.
The IRC is training field health staff from 19 aid organizations in Pakistan on data collection and reporting. A Pakistan government health groups is also participating. It is hoped that most NGOs working in the refugee health sector will contribute information to the database.