ISLAMABAD - World Health Organisation (WHO) on Sunday said it was concerned about the increase in number of premature births among IDPs due to displacement of pregnant women saying the babies were at higher risk of malnutrition, acute dehydration and communicable diseases.

Talking exclusively to The Nation on Sunday, WHO Country Representative Dr Michel Thieren said hospitals in Bannu, which the WHO officials visited recently, required uplifting and refreshing to absorb the increased health demands of (internally displaced persons) IDPs.

Dr Thieren said the hot temperatures made children prone to dehydarion while the low coverage of children made them vulnerable to measles arguing they had not been immunized in a long time. "Nutritional insufficiency makes a child even more susceptible to contract measles or communicable diseases," he added.

According to official estimate, a majority of the displaced people comprises of children and women. There are more than 450,000 children among the total number of over 800,000 people that have fled North Waziristan since military offensive was launched in the troubled area on June 15. The fear that children could be attacked by communicable diseases has triggered WHO to establish Disease Early Warning System (DEWS) in Bannu.

"Situation in Bannu would worsen after August 15 when government and private schools would reopen after summer holidays. Majority of IDPs have taken refuge in schools and once the educational institutions get open, the displaced people would be forced to live in overcrowded places," Dr Fawad Khan, emergency and health cluster coordinator of WHO told The Nation.

Dr Khan candidly said that the lone camp for IDPs in Bakakhel was in very bad condition, adding that children were more likely to be attacked by acute water diarrhoea in the humid monsoon season. With more than 800,000 IDPs taking shelter in Bannu, health experts say that the population of the host district has doubled as the existing infrastructure and facilities cannot cope with the growing influx of people.

With polio still endemic in Pakistan, over 73 cases have been reported in Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) in which North Waziristan alone contributed 57 cases as administration of polio drops in the tribal area had been declared un-Islamic by the outlawed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and some other extremist groups.

However, Dr Thieren, who has taken office very recently and is bringing his commitment to assist in the implementation of the safest interventions in cooperation with the government, said the WHO will always be available to listen to anyone expressing doubts over what the world health body does. "I want to clear all the misunderstandings about administration of polio drops. The opposition to immunisation vaccines needs to be addressed,” he maintained.

To a question the WHO representative said WHO had conveyed its concerns and suggestions to federal and provincial health ministers and other health authorities, adding they were engaged in enhancing the capacity building of government hospitals to cope with the situation.

The WHO has already started blanket vaccination of all IDPs, an ideal opportunity for the world health body to reach out to NWA IDPs that have come to the doorstep as health officials earlier could hardly step in the militancy-hit area for polio vaccination.