Makeshift Surgeries in the Heat and Humidity of Punjab
Two months after the floods began gushing through Pakistan, Islamic Relief’s aid worker, Samina Faiz, meets some of the people we have helped and discovers what still needs to be done.
The floods in Pakistan have left sickness in their wake. Water sources have been contaminated and clean drinking water is scarce. Skin diseases such as scabies and infected rashes are common, as are eye infections, diarrhoea and malarial fevers. In the north of Pakistan floodwaters have receded, but many areas of central Punjab are still under water.
Outside the health camp in Jada Chandia village, in Wan Pitafi, mothers jostle each other in an unruly queue, holding listless, feverish babies in their arms. The blazing heat drives them to seek shade indoors, piling into the small room where the female doctor has set up a makeshift surgery. In the unventilated space the crush stifles the air, and the ceiling fan is still and useless in the power cut. Beads of sweat pour down anxious faces.
Unprepared for the extreme temperatures, I feel close to fainting in the crush, and am grateful when one of our local staff remarks on the unusually hot day. It makes me feel a little less pathetic as I melt like wax and struggle to breathe the humid air.
Twenty-five-year-old Rukhsana reaches the front of the queue and takes her turn on the small metal stool in front of Dr Sana Altaf. There is no privacy in this emergency set-up. Rukhsana is prescribed medication for the vomiting, dizziness and weakness she is experiencing and reassured that her blood pressure is normal. As Dr Sana writes out a prescription to take to the dispenser outside, a volunteer fans her with a palm-leaf fan, providing a brief but welcome draft of air.
The doctor is assisted by a staff nurse and a volunteer health worker. Outside, under the shade of a tree, Dr Fawad Ali and his assistant are providing healthcare for men, and an ambulance stands ready to take any emergency cases to hospital.
In the queue, amidst the jostling and pushing a quarrel threatens to erupt as an old woman sneaks onto the consulting stool from behind, just as a young mother reaches her turn. There is a chorus of disapproval from all around. Dr Sana is calm and collected amidst the heat and quickly calms matters by appealing to the younger woman to allow the ‘old mother’ to cut in. Peace is restored, and the queue of patients moves on.
A two-year-old boy arrives at the clinic. His abdomen is swollen and he is in pain. Dr Fawad suspects he has an enlarged liver, and refers the child to Nishtar hospital in Multan, phoning ahead to give details.
Islamic Relief’s Punjab medical team treats up to 600 patients each day, in conditions so basic and challenging that I am full of admiration for their dedication and stamina. After just one day in the heat and humidity I am exhausted, and almost ready to admit myself to their medical care.
The death toll from this unprecedented disaster has thankfully been low, compared to the millions affected. But as I hear of girls drowning in pools of floodwater, pregnant mothers losing babies, and children falling ill from diarrhoea and malarial fevers, I wonder what the total cost in human lives will be.