Riau haze blamed for rise in health woes
Rizal Harahap, The Jakarta Post, Pekanbaru
The Riau Health Office announced Monday 1,547 people were suffering from a number of afflictions from the haze caused by forest fires in the province over the past two weeks.
Residents in a number of regencies have developed respiratory infections, skin irritations, conjunctivitis and diarrhea.
“The diseases are always imminent during the recurrent haze and dry seasons,” said Burhanuddin Agung, head of nutrition and medical care at the health office.
Data gathered over the weekend from Rokan Hulu, Rokan Hilir, Indragiri Hulu and Bengkalis regencies, indicated 1,095 people have already contracted respiratory infections.
The most affected area is Rokan Hulu, where there are 702 cases. As many as 150 people have reported skin irritations in the regencies, 29 of them suffering from eye irritation and 19 from conjunctivitis.
“The number affected could be higher because seven other regencies have not sent in their reports, including Dumai, which is likely to be the worst hit area,” said Burhanuddin.
Surging numbers of people seeking treatment in Pekanbaru’s hospitals and community health centers show that respiratory disease has doubled in the area.
At the Arifin Achmad General Hospital, for instance, the number of respiratory disease patients seeking treatment reached 25 each day compared to around 10 before the fires.
“The conditions are like this every haze season. Patients not only come from Pekanbaru but also from outside the city. Their conditions are generally not too chronic and they can still be treated as outpatients. Only six patients are currently receiving in-patient treatment,” said hospital spokesman Nuzeli.
Besides those being treated for respiratory diseases and irritation, the number of diarrhea patients is also on the rise. In the past week, the number of patients in the four regencies has reached 254.
“Based on our experience, the number of diarrhea patients usually goes up during each haze season. There is no correlation between diarrhea and forest fires. It’s actually the rainfall because rural residents still depend on rain for their source of drinking water. During minimum rain, they are forced to seek other means of water, even if it is unsafe. This is believed to have triggered the rise in the number of diarrhea patients,” said Burhanuddin.
The Riau Health Office has set up health posts in 11 regencies and cities across the province in a bid to monitor and overcome the impacts of forest fires.
It has distributed 30,000 masks in Siak, Bengkalis, Dumai and Rokan Hilir; areas it predicts will face the worst impacts of the haze.
The health office has also distributed 2,000 free masks in Pekanbaru. The provincial administration has also requested the central government provide an additional 100,000 masks to replenish its stock.
“Other logistics, such as medicine, are still adequate,” said Burhanuddin.