Pakistan floods: medical coordination is essential

Dr Rhona MacDonald, Freelance editor (rmacdonald@gmail.com).
COI: RM is the honorary executive director of MCAI

As more news about the devastating floods in northwest Pakistan is beamed across the world (see Newsnow for the latest information),there are many questions to ask, such as: Why did it take the media almost a week to cover a disaster that is on a similar scale to the recent Haitian earthquake? Why is the media’s focus mostly on the political dimensions of Pakistan’s relationship with the rest of the world, and vice versa? But when an estimated 3 million men, women, and children have had to flee their homes (stop and just think about that statistic for a second-that’s about the same population size as the whole of the country of Kuwait), and the current death toll is 1,500, such questions can wait. Humanitarian relief is the main priority for now but the inaccessible terrain and atrocious weather conditions have hampered many attempts so far.

It is imperative that humanitarian relief and medical organisations, learn from previous experience and work closely together to better coordinate aid efforts and access to health care. For example, as some organisations already have national workers, including health professionals, on the ground, other organisations could help most effectively by donating funds received in response to this disaster to the organisations that are already on the ground and so can quickly mobilise relief efforts.

For example, after a few phone calls yesterday, one UK based charity that also has a sister organisation in Pakistan (MCAI-Maternal Childhealth Advocacy International)  helped several other organisations (such as Doctors Worldwide)  who wanted to help with the crisis but did not know how best to do this, to contact the country director of MCAI in Pakistan, Dr Assad Hafeez, who is helping to coordinate the health response. Dr Hafeez has already sent two health professionals to assess the situation, and as a result of yesterday’s phone calls is now in talks with the Red Crescent about how to best coordinate the medical response, including organising and mobilising the many health professionals in Pakistan who are ready, able, and willing to help their fellow Pakistanis.

Unfortunately, similar to the situation in Haiti, this region of Pakistan had a poorly functioning health system before the floods so now that most health facilities have been swept away, providing immediate health care, and then rebuilding the health care infrastructure will be a very difficult, but not impossible, challenge, especially if true partnerships and collaborations develop and flourish. I will keep you posted.

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