Women and children most at risk from Pakistan floods
By Rebecca Conway
Women in flowing burkas carrying tiny children flood the entrance halls of the noisy, hot Pabi Satellite Hospital. Scores of children linger on steps and lean on railings, and crowds form around the doorways of doctors’ offices and wards.
The hospital’s Diarrhea Treatment Centre, though, seems a world away from this – a quiet and spotlessly clean ward. The scent of disinfectant lingers – something not always true of small, rural Pakistani hospitals – and a compulsory anti-bacterial spray applied to the shoes of anyone entering the ward was a surprise. Here, doctors have been dealing with hundreds of cases of an illness that in Pakistan can mean death. Run by British non-governmental organisation Merlin and the World Health Organisation, the ward is an example of the drive by NGOs to reach out to flood victims with tangible efforts and high-quality care.
Eleven days ago, the wards were four feet deep in mud, but a team of doctors and cleaners worked overnight to ensure the ward could open the next day to the victims of Pakistan’s flood disaster.
The result has been a centre where, despite treating 1180 sufferers since it opened on August 21, has seen no fatalities. Dr. Asad Ullah says he has seen severe cases among the 120 – 130 patients that have come in every day. “The first two people we treated on that first morning shocked us because they were so malnourished and dehydrated,” he said.
As he surveys the ward, the exhausted-looking doctor warns dehydration and diarrhea pose an extremely serious risk. “In Pakistan, diarrhea and dehydration are enough to kill you. And we’re not yet seeing a leveling-off of the numbers coming here for treatment.”
Those that do though – and they are mostly women and children under the age of five – are led to one of the narrow beds that line the wards and hooked up to drips. Family members sit alongside patients, cooled by ceiling fans.
Treatment here, Dr. Ullah says, will continue around the clock. Both the drive by the organizations that provide the medicines and materials to run the treatment centre and doctors dedicated to non-stop care seem single-mindedly fixed on helping as many flood victims as possible recover from what was Pakistan’s biggest killer among the under-fives before the flooding, and that is now spreading among people who have already lost so much.