The recent conflict between Pakistani security forces and the Anti-governmental Elements in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. In just weeks, more than 2.5 million people were displaced — the largest population movement since the country was established in 1947.
International Medical Corps was among the first responders to the crisis, providing primary health care services, psychosocial support, and water and sanitation facilities. While the military operations in Swat, Buner, and Lower Dir Districts have ended, the emergency is far from over. As the fighting came to an end, the displaced started to return to their homes in large numbers. According to Government figures, more than 1.5 million internally displaced have returned while many more are planning to soon.
When they do return, they find little remains.
Health care facilities throughout Swat and Buner were severely damaged in the conflict. Buildings were destroyed and supplies and equipment were looted. Like the rest of the population, health care staff relocated, fleeing to safer places. That means returnees are coming home to find a health care system, which was barely functional before the conflict, to be completely devastated, leaving them with little to no place to access care.
International Medical Corps immediately responded and deployed medical teams to Swat and Buner as soon the security forces cleared the area. The International Medical Corps medical teams are still providing comprehensive primary health care services, including maternal and child care and health education, out of government health facilities in Swat and Buner. The medical teams, consisting of a doctor, nurse, dispenser, and health educator, are equipped with all the required medicines, supplies, and equipment. International Medical Corps is also supporting the government by carrying out repairs, providing medical equipment and supplies, and training government health staff.
Because of these services, many returnees have received medical care that otherwise would not have existed. And for some, having these services made the life or death difference.
Dr. Imran, a medical officer for International Medical Corps in Dewana Baba Basic Health Unit (BHU) in Buner, was about to leave the clinic for the evening when a man came in short of breath. “I was about to complete my shift at the health clinic when an old man of 62 years came to our clinic, complaining of severe headaches,” Dr. Imran says.
With a blood pressure measurement of 190/120, Dr. Imran determined that the patient was suffering from severe hypertension. Considering his age and condition, Dr. Imran feared that he might go into cardiovascular arrest. “Without any delay, I started the treatment of that patient and in a half an hour his blood pressure was reduced to a relatively safer level and his active complaints subsided,” says Dr. Imran. “Later on, I counseled him about strict drug compliance and put him on anti-hypertension drugs provided by International Medical Corps. When I sent him home, he was in a stable condition.”
A poor man living in a remote village, the patient never before could afford or access the medicines he needed. “I think without the help of International Medical Corps at that particular time that patient would have faced severe…hypertension complications and even cardiovascular arrest,” says Dr. Imran. “When the patient was leaving, I saw the thankfulness in his eyes, which was the most amazing and satisfactory feeling I ever had,” says Dr. Imran.
A few days later in the same health facility, the International Medical Corps health staff was doing their routine morning outpatient services when a female patient came in. Referred to International Medical Corps by government health staff, the 28-year-old woman was pregnant and having labor pains. Before they could refer her to the District Headquarter Hospital in Daggar, her water broke, leaving no time for travel to another facility. The baby had to be born in the basic health unit.
Part of the way through the delivery, the team found that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, a complication that could prove fatal for a mother and her baby. The International Medical Corps team safely delivered a healthy baby girl, weighing 2.6 kg.
After the delivery, the mother told the International Medical Corps staff that her husband was very conservative and did not allow her to seek antenatal care, something that would have shown that the umbilical cord was around the baby’s neck. He was also against delivering a baby in a hospital, so she stayed home and suffered labor pains for three days without an attendant. With the labor not progressing, her husband finally took her to the International Medical Corps’ clinic, where the baby was delivered safely. If it were not for the care in the clinic, the baby – and maybe the mother – may not have survived.
With tears in her eyes, the mother asked an International Medical Corps lady birth attendant to name her baby. The name they chose – Maryam – the Arabic name for Mary.
With many more of the displaced returning home to find little to no services available to them, the need for development assistance in the NWFP is far from met. As the winter settles in, leaving communities even more vulnerable, International Medical Corps health teams are saving lives and helping the displaced regain their self-reliance so they can begin to rebuild their lives back home.