Pakistan Earthquake Relief Update

January 2, 2006

Omar Amir

The New Year started in the earthquake-affected areas of Pakistan with the first heavy rains since the natural disaster struck on October 8, 2005. The rain was torrential, coming down in downpours, making access to the mountain villages more difficult, if not nearly impossible. The roads were treacherous, with each turn masquerading as a potential fatal accident. Unfortunately, the local people up in the camps will not only be affected by the cold rain pouring down on their open tents as well as the resulting increase in infectious diseases, but this will most certainly decrease their access to healthcare as health care providers will not be able to have access to the roads. And this is only the beginning of the upcoming winter.

On January 1st, a team of Real Medicine, comprising of Omar Amir, Helen Ouyang, Giorgio Pietramaggiori, and Fabien Toegel visited the site of the relief operations of HOAP Foundation: The Union Council of Jabri, consisting of several villages with a population of 20,000. Out of these 20,000 people, 336 people have died as a direct result of the earthquake and an large number are injured and traumatized. The Union Council of Jabri at 5,500 feet is located above Balakot, the town that was completely devastated as it was closest to the epicenter in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan.

The team encountered numerous patients with respiratory diseases, diarrhea and dehydration, abdominal complaints, infected wounds, and other incidental injuries. The patients look at us with tremendous hope and desperation in their eyes, and we tried, and will continue to try, to fulfill their expectations. The team was also joined by three local Pakistani physicians, who are veterans in the camps. In addition, the team provided the camp with medicines including antibiotics and wound care material. During a brief visit to the homes, the team also encountered many victims permanently disabled by amputations and spinal cord injuries, who are unable to leave their homes. The team also spoke to the one female healthcare worker, who laments that the pregnant women do not have proper healthcare because there are no obstetricians or gynecologists in the area. Sadly, they remain marginalized from the healthcare system. A day prior to this, the team visited a camp of 5000 Internally Displaced Persons in the vicinity of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, as well as a tertiary care facility and a rehabilitation center for paraplegic women. The effects of the natural disaster on these patients are devastating, needless to say, but the spirit of the victims and the health care providers are beautiful and endless.

Given that the Union Council has no permanent doctor, the Real Medicine Foundation continues to raise funds to employ a permanent physician who will be stationed at the medical camp for the next six months to provide continuity of care and train local healthcare workers. Omar Amir, who like Helen and Fabian is a student at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the Real Medicine Team Pakistan, will be staying at Jabri for the entire month of January to continue needs assessment and facilitate the transition from erratic, temporary health care provision to a more permanent, regular one. He will continue to follow up on the severely injured patients that are now dispersed throughout the major health facilities throughout the country. In addition, after speaking with the local people, the team learned that the schools in the region have all been destroyed by the earthquake. To continue education for these children, as well as to restore a semblance of normal, daily life, Real Medicine will also try to aid in the process of rebuilding some of the local schools, in addition to strengthening the healthcare system.

Country Page: Pakistan Initiative Page: Healthcare Project, Union Council Talhatta