AKU has established camps in Khairpur, Karachi, Matiari, Naushero Feroze, Osta Mohammad and Sukkur.
Karachi, Pakistan; September 17, 2010: Health services for women and children displaced by the floods should be first priority as they are most vulnerable to infections sweeping through the relief camps.
“Pakistan already has poor maternal and child health indicators and diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses and skin infections will attack the weakest,” said Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Chair, Division of Maternal and Child Health, Aga Khan University (AKU). AKU is running centres and camps in Khairpur, Karachi, Matiari, Naushero Feroze, Sukkur in Sindh and Osta Mohammad in Balochistan, focusing on treating pregnant women, those ready to deliver as well as newborn infants and young children.
Operating under difficult conditions at Osta Mohammad, a 13-member AKU team is running an outpatient clinic and emergency room at the Osta Mohammad Labour Hospital as well as visiting IDP camps further afield, treating several hundred patients. Over the last few days, members of the team have travelled by boat to Shaiful Shah Ghandkha, on the periphery of the district, where 2,000 IDPs are currently taking shelter. Working in open-air and using charpoys and tables to examine people, the team is treating over 200 patients a day.
The problems being seen are similar to those arising in Sindh. “Having spent time both at Khairpur District Headquarter Hospital and Sukkur Railway Hospital – where AKU doctors and nurses have staffed the wards on request of local authorities – I have observed that the humanitarian crisis is similar in both places,” says Dr Muhammad Shafaat Shah, Resident, Department of Paediatric and Child Health, AKU. “Most children are brought in with diarrhoea and severe dehydration, and we are left thinking that even if they survive this and return, will they survive the severe malnutrition that most of them are suffering from?” The problems of poverty, ignorance of basic hygiene practices and lack of clean water and sanitation are apparent. Most children are not immunised and are malnourished as are most mothers. “There is no awareness in terms of care during pregnancy or the concept of safe delivery among these people,” he added.
At the medical camp in Village That Guraho, Naushero Feroze, operational since August 21, over 55 per cent patients were women, most of them suffering from severe diarrhoea and water-borne skin infections. Many of the pregnant women required antenatal care.
In Thatta, project staff and volunteers from AKU’s Department of Community Health Sciences evacuated villagers from Darro, Mir Pur Bathoro and Mir Pur Sakro talukas in Thatta District after flood warnings were issued by the Sindh government. To this day, over 135 staff and 200 community volunteers of the Department’s Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research project continue to offer basic health services to over 150 patients every day.
AKU has also been in touch with the international community. The World Organization of Family Doctors (Wonca) has launched an appeal to its 120 member organisations in 99 countries on behalf of AKU, the College of Family Medicine, Pakistan and the Pakistan Society of Family Physicians to help in their flood relief efforts. In addition, the US National Library of Medicine and other partners have activated the Emergency Access Initiative that will allow temporary free access to emergency-related literature to those involved in flood relief.
Most of the camps and centres are staffed by AKU volunteers who have also contributed a day’s salary to the relief efforts, which sums up to over Rs 7.9 million. AKU aims to extend its relief efforts to four more districts including Dadu, Shikarpur, Kashmore, and Jacobabad within the next 10 days. It also aims to continue providing services for the next three to four months, as part of national rehabilitation efforts.
AKU is now expanding its flood response to a substantive rehabilitation phase with a focus on supporting populations as they return home and health systems achieve some level of normalcy. We are actively seeking health workers willing to join us in this task. Funding support from USAID is also underway which will not only strengthen the efforts, but also would augment the pace of the activities being carried out for the rehabilitation of Pakistani population.
Other agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network have also been actively involved in reaching out to the flood affectees. FOCUS Pakistan has faced the challenge of transporting food and relief items to Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. By identifying alternative road routes, 30 tonnes of food trucked to Chitral, and 200 tonnes to Gilgit-Baltistan in collaboration with the NDMA. In all the relief camps being run by FOCUS Pakistan, access to health care, clean drinking water and sanitation facilities is being provided in coordination with other AKDN. Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan is providing much-needed health care to displaced individuals in camps in Hyderabad and Karachi as well as conducting health awareness sessions throughout the camps. Aga Khan Planning and Building Service, Pakistan is making provisions to supply clean drinking water and adequate sanitation facilities in camps, as well as working to restore water supply systems in parts of Ghizer where access to clean drinking water is a concern.