The recent floods in Pakistan highlighted the vital role Doctors Worldwide volunteers carry out in the field. Below is an account from one of our volunteers, Dr. Seher Ahmad, GP, who worked in Nowshera, North West Pakistan in September 2010.
“This was my first ever experience of working in an emergency. A series of fortunate events enabled me to go to Pakistan and work with DWW on the humanitarian crisis. I was on maternity leave and my husband had booked some time off work for Ramadan before we even knew anything about the floods. My mum was willing to take time off to take care of our baby, he was 3 months old at the time, so that my husband and I could travel to Pakistan and volunteer with DWW. All the factors fell into place and so we were able to go.
I knew it would be hard work when I got there but what I found challenging was the massive need for doctors, and seeing the state of the patients who were coming to the clinic. Some of the patients had not seen doctors for years; they had urgent medical needs and others had more long-term medical needs. I was dealing with chronic long-term illnesses but because our clinic was so well stocked with medicines we were able to help people. I was shocked at seeing so many children at our clinic who were sick. Young children with diarrhoea, more than 250,000 cases of suspected malaria, including some of the fatal falciparum strain, have been reported, according to the World Health Organisation. Children in particular are very vulnerable to malaria.
The UN reports there are 881,000 cases of diarrhoea, 840,000 cases of skin diseases and almost 1m cases of respiratory disorders.
The floods have devastated Pakistan’s flimsy public health system. According to a news report in The Guardian newspaper more than 500 clinics have been damaged, while the government estimates that 30,000 “lady health workers” – a programme that is the backbone of the community health system – have been made homeless.
The newspaper states that pregnant woman are a particular concern. An estimated 50,000 flood-affected woman will give birth in the coming month, 7,500 of whom will require surgery for pregnancy-related complications.
There was a lack of hygiene in the area post floods, due to people not having access to clean water. In many cases people only had the clothes they we wearing, they had lost all their possessions.
I was seeing between 80-100 patients a day with a focus on seeing women and children as they felt more comfortable seeing female doctors for cultural and religious reasons. Women would of course see male doctors if no female doctors were present but like many women they felt they could talk in more detail about their personal health issues with me. Lots of women coming to the clinic were pregnant. I was able to assure them about the health of their unborn babies. I had a Doppler with me, the women were amazed and stunned to be able to hear their unborn babies heart beats, it was something they had never experienced before. This was a very special moment for me and raised my spirits to see the expecting mothers faces etched with relief to know that their babies are safe and healthy.
I was in Pakistan for seven days, but what I saw and experienced has had a profound impact on me and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back and volunteer again. I came across babies who were sick and in urgent need of IVF fluids.
We had an ambulance that we could access which meant that we could transfer patients to surrounding hospitals for further treatment. The reality however is that the patients had no way of making their way back to their village 40 km away, they had no money, they had no way of communicating with their families. So for this reason many people did not want to go to hospitals far away for treatment.
I raised £20,00 for Pakistan through family and friends that money is going to Doctors Worldwide.
Since I’ve been back I’ve had mixed feelings, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and my mind drifts back over to Pakistan a lot. Long term I’m interested in developing relief work experience alongside my GP training; this experience has really made me want to learn more about humanitarian work.
We need more women doctors in the field and I would definitely consider going out again.”