Geared for Emergencies

Geared for Emergencies 

October 21, 2010

Even though it is not the centre of the action, Karachi has become a temporary home for 29,000 flood affected people who are still living in camps in the city.

Having faced the trauma of losing their homes, livelihoods, and loved ones, the IDPs are dependent on aid workers, government staff and others organising the temporary shelters and facilities. Hygiene and sanitation have become critical issues in many of these camps with waterborne dangerous gastrointestinal diseases such as cholera on the rise and healthcare not always readily available to camp inhabitants.

AKU's Bhains Colony Clinic has stepped up to the challenge.

Since 2002, AKU has been establishing primary care centres at the periphery of Karachi. At present, the University is running centres in five locations: Bhains Colony, Rehri Goth, Ali Akbar Shah Goth, and Ibrahim Haidery.

The Bhains Colony Clinic was established in early 2008. This clinic, like the other four, is a base for conducting population and community-based studies that help in generating new knowledge and solutions related to disease patterns and essential health issues. The clinic provide free-of-cost care to communities, specifically to mothers and children under the age of five.

Immediately after the flood struck Sindh, the Bhains Colony clinic team observed an influx of IDPs in their catchment areas – mainly in government-managed IDP camps. They saw that people from flood stricken areas were reluctant to go out in search of the much needed attention from doctors and nurses. And so, AKU’s primary care teams decided that they must go to the people. During the month of Ramadan, when clinic hours are shorter, staff is more fatigued, patient loads are high, and research and surveillance work must continue, the AKU Community Health Workers went from camp to camp on a daily basis collecting children under the age of five who needed medical attention.

On peak days during Ramadan, the health professionals dealt with 30% additional patients in shorter working hours. Over and above the call of duty, the health workers at the Bhains Colony Clinic utilised the cars that were normally used for surveillance work to take patients to clinics and also to take serious cases to the National Institute of Child Health in Karachi for further medical attention – all free of cost.

Overall 735 flood affectees have benefited from the care provided by the AKU primary clinics in Karachi. Of these, most have been cases of diarrhoea and pneumonia in children under five – both of these are major killers of young children in Pakistan.

I had gone to Bhains Colony hoping to identify the heroes and the victims of the flood. Instead, I learned an important lesson – a functioning and pre-existing healthcare system responds almost effortlessly to the needs of those affected by emergencies – it reduces the need for unusual heroics to save lives. The civil society and Government of Pakistan can learn important lessons from some of the experiences of disaster relief work that thousands have contributed to and replicate effective models to prevent or reduce future suffering of the people of Pakistan.

Views of a volunteer