Bannu: A diphtheria epidemic has killed 9 people including children and adults in North and South Waziristan.

The emergency has prompted authorities to issue a red alert in the mainland towns neighbouring the two tribal districts of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata).

People sick with diphtheria have been brought to different hospitals in Bannu and D.I.Khan where they are being treated. Reacting to the disease that threatens to become an epidemic, the Khyber Pakhtunkwa government has issued a health alert in the districts adjacent to Fata like Bannu, Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Hangu etc.

Doctors at the Agency Headquarters Hospital (AHQ) Miranshah in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) said the disease had assumed epidemic proportions because the hospital lacks medicine and vaccines to control it.

“When we take our patients to AHQ Hospital Miranshah, they refer us to Bannu or elsewhere for treatment and vaccination,” said Muhammad Noor from NWA who has admitted his son in the District Headquarters Hospital in Bannu.

He said there were no arrangements in the local hospital in NWA to save the lives of patients.

A press dispatch from the KPK government on Thursday said that emergency has been declared in all the hospitals of the areas close to Fata to avoid spread of diphtheria that has claimed several lives in Fata.

The statement said there were no anti-diphtheria vaccines available in Pakistan. It said the provincial health department had contacted the United Nations’ children fund UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) for provision of vaccines.

At the DHQ Hospital in Bannu, 40 patients were brought in from Palangzai and Khuziayee in North Waziristan – neighbourhoods to which the local people have recently repatriated after being displaced in 2014 by the military operation Zarb-e-Azb. Another 30 people sick with diphtheria were from the Srela area of South Waziristan.

Though there are AHQ hospitals in the twin tribal agencies, they lack basic health facilities to treat the repatriated population, according to health officials based there.

The incidence of a communicable disease like diphtheria in the sister agencies to which repatriation of the internally displaced people continues has created a health scare in absence of vaccines to treat patients.

“Anti-Diphtheria Serum ( ADS) is the only treatment for the patients but it is unavailable here at the moment,” said Medical Superintendent Rehman Afridi at the AHQ Miranshah in NWA.  He said they had contacted the Fata Secretariat in Peshawar, seeking provision of medical supplies. “We do have an isolation ward for the patients of diphtheria but no medicines to treat them.”

The local people in Miranshah confirmed that the disease has become endemic, saying the Palngzai and Khuzaiayee areas adjacent to the remote saidgee have witnessed frequent incidence of the diphtheria.

“We have several children with sore throat and temperature that the doctors describe as diphtheria,” said Alam Khan, a local in saidgee that is adjacent to the Ghulam Khan town bordering Afghanistan.

In Fata, the agency surgeon is responsible for vaccination and providing health facilities to the rural population and community health centres away from the main hospitals. Dr Inayat, the Agency Surgeon in North Waziristan, said special medical camps had been arranged in the affected areas while another medical camp will be set up in saidgee.

“We realise the intensity of the situation and we are doing our best to combat the disease but still there is need to tackle the situation on emergency basis,” he said.

The situation in SWA is even worse, say locals, where five people including two sisters have died of the highly contagious disease in Srela, a remote area of Tehsil Serveki.

“It takes a long time to reach to mainland towns in the plains like Dera and Tank,” said Rehman Gul Mehusd from SWA. “I have two kids affected by diphtheria at home and I don’t know what to do.”

Health authorities in Fata and KP said anti-diphtheria serum was not just unavailable locally but also in the capital Islamabad.

“We have asked Director General Health Punjab for help as ADS is only available in Lahore,” said Dr Ikhtyar Ali, Deputy Director EPI at the Fata Secretariat.

He said urgent steps had been taken to stop the fast-spreading disease. Special medical teams had been dispatched to Miranshah and Sarvekai tehsil to vaccinate people in the affected areas.

Dr Ali said ADS had been provided to hospitals in Bannu and Dera Ismail Khan. However, NWA and SWA had yet to get any due to shortage of medicine.

“You have to keep the patients in isolation and also there is big problem of power availability in Fata which is needed for vaccines as they have to be stored at low temperature,” said Dr. Ali.

While the health authorities claim they are working overtime to control the disease, the locals say they have yet to see vaccination teams visiting their areas.

Haji Rehmat Khan from the Palangzai area in NWA told News Lens at the DHQ Hospital in Bannu that the authorities have yet to respond seriously to the emergency.

“We are losing our dear ones while the authorities are busy in meetings,” said a dejected Khan, on the verge of tears. “We are still waiting for vaccination in our villages but where are they?”

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