KARACHI - At least seven children have been killed while 185 others hospitalised due to the recent outbreak of measles in a village near Keenjhar Lake, Thatta.

Representative of various leading humanitarian organisations linked the outbreak of measles to the use of contaminated water of Keenjhar Lake. The death of seven children took place in Sonehri village, located close to Keenjhar Lake. The village has 550 families, mostly depending on fishing and cultivation for their livelihoods.

The villagers said that only 50 per cent population has access to get water from the filter plant installed by a non-governmental organisation, while the remaining population has no other option but to use water from the government’s water supply line, which is said to be smelly and contaminated. The villagers accused the govt authorities of ignoring them.

The releasing of industrial chemicals into Keenjhar Lake ignited the measles outbreak, killing seven children and inflicting around 185 others in Sonahri Village and its neighbourhoods. The fishermen said that neither they have job to feed their children properly nor health facilities in the area to get treatment in emergency.

The government’s apathy could be gauged from the fact that some of the medical practitioners, who were deputed at major government hospitals, are running their private clinics in the scattered villages and are reluctant to provide help to the ailing children.

“When we took our 3-year-old child Gulsher to a nearby private clinic in Sonda Village, the doctor didn’t even come out to suggest us what to do. We stayed outside the clinic for two hours, crying for help but returned home hopelessly. Again we hired a vehicle on Rs8,000 to take the child to Makli Hospital. However, the child expired at hospital before reaching any medical aid,” Ali Mohammed, father of the victim narrates the tale of apathy. Ali has lost his two children, a boy and girl, in the same disease one after the other.  A 4-member team of Pakistan Fisher-folk Forum (PFF) after visiting the affected area quoted the parents, saying despite getting their children vaccinated they are facing horrible situation. According to the villagers, so far, they have buried seven dead children who became victims of the measles.

 It is for the first time the people are experiencing disastrous situation, but the government officials are reluctant to declare emergency to avoid further loss.

They said that doctors are still unable to share cause of the outbreak that is said to be similar to the one which killed a large number of children in Shikarpur district after the 2010 flooding. It was the contaminated water there which caused deaths of several children.

The team collected information of about 185 children affected by the diseases (Measles and Pneumonia), where seven children reportedly have died, including 11-year-old Haider, Mairaj, 4, Basit, 8, Simra, 2, Gulsher, 3, Bisma, 2, and Sahil, 2.

The villagers said that the failure of health services is also aggravating the problem. No health facilities are functional properly to benefit the people.

The parents are facing difficulties to take their children to major hospitals in Thatta and other cities for treatment because of poverty. Many times they starve hunger; they have empty pockets; they even cannot afford to visit private clinics, said Aziz. There is dispensary in village Sonehri, which remained closed most of the time. After this phenomenon, the dispensary has been made functional for the sub immunisation activity of the affected children.

Moreover, the dispensary only provides medicines for fever, cough and other ailments as first aid. After receiving a measles or pneumonia patient, the staffers refer the patient to Makli Hospital, Thatta Civil Hospital, Jinnah Hospital Karachi and other private clinics for getting better treatment.

PFF chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah said the efforts against hunger and poverty could be fruitless without protecting natural resources. Fresh water lakes are the natural assets and degradation of such resources due to flawed policy and carelessness resulted in such outbreaks of diseases. 

He also appealed to the authorities concerned to take precautionary measures as Keenjhar Lake is the main source of supplying water to Karachi. “When we can reach here to help the people, why the government is reluctant to visit the affected areas and declare emergency to help the people,” he criticised the officials. He said the people, who are facing malnutrition, joblessness and acute poverty, are unable to take their loved ones to the hospitals. 

Thatta Medical Officer Hassan Gandro said that the recently launched vaccination covered more than 5,000 children in Sonda Union Council. The measles outbreak was reported at the end of March and now it has panicked the wide area. The PPP-led Sindh government is seemingly silent as it could not initiate any move to extend helping hand to save the lives of children.