The Kerala floods have displaced millions, with deaths numbering in the hundreds. The floodwaters are receding. However, as around a million displaced individuals remain in camps, further problems may be on the horizon.
Fears have arisen that funneling so many people into relief camps could cause large scale outbreaks of infectious diseases – the scale of which could be huge. Close monitoring of the health of those in the camps is essential to avoid this potential outcome.
Authorities so far seem to be vigilant. They have isolated three people with chickenpox in one of the relief camps in Aluva town, according to Anil Vasudevan, a worker involved with disaster management at Kerala’s health department. Further vigilance is needed to control other potential disease outbreaks – particularly water-borne and airborne conditions. Due to the close proximity of those staying in relief camps, any potential outbreak of an airborne disease such as the flu could spread rapidly between the residents.
“People are being screened for respiratory infections,” said a camp doctor, Rajesh Parameshwaran. He noted that other infections that doctors were targeting was leptospirosis, which is possible to contract when wading through stagnant water.
The Home Ministry has said that sixty tonnes of emergency medicines will be airlifted into the region. There are also six specialized medical teams on standby. The relief efforts will likely be a drawn out procedure as the full extent of the damage is unveiled.The Union Health Ministry, meanwhile, is assisting in efforts to monitor for infections, dispatching rapid response teams and establishing medical relief camps across the state.
Issues may also arise when those who fled their homes go back to their towns and villages. The extent of the damage is likely to leave many homeless. This could result in people left out of pocket and forced to live on the streets if no alternative accommodation is provided. This brings with it a host of potential health issues stemming from unsanitary conditions.
As the floodwaters recede there is going to be vast amounts of stagnant water left in their place. This stagnant water could allow for the threat of water-borne infections to continue long after the immediate threat of the floods has been resolved. Stockpiles of medicines are already being delivered. As floods recede delivery of these medicines will be made easier, making the situation far less of a threat over time.