In recent weeks, Pakistan has seen devastating monsoon rains, which according to United Nations, have been more than five times the 30-year average for rainfall. Flooding has impacted more than 33 million people, with millions of Pakistanis being displaced, while thousands more have died or been injured. Airdrie physician, Dr. Fozia Alvi said that she has spoken to fellow doctors on the ground who are warning the situation is becoming direr by the day.
"Those people do not have any place to cook, they don't have any kitchens, they don't have any stove[s]. So, they are eating raw [thing]. The doctors in our team are telling me that people are dying here and there. They don't have any place to bury those dead bodies. There are small children, who're dying of diarrhea, people who are dying of malaria, and dengue [fever]," she said. "I just heard from my friend in Toronto, that one of the prominent doctors [who] was doing the relief work in Pakistan died of dengue."
Having recently returned home after filling in for her fellow doctors in Northern Alberta due to a physician shortage, she will not have much time to rest, as on Friday (Sept. 9) she will be travelling once again. This time, Dr. Alvi will be making a 10 thousand-some kilometre journey to her home country of Pakistan.
She noted that while Western countries are sending aid, including dry food rations since livestock and crops have all been destroyed, there is no infrastructure for those who have been displaced and the poor sanitary conditions are creating rife breeding grounds for water-borne illnesses, many of which are highly transmissible and can be deadly.
Though Dr. Alvi herself may be at risk of contracting any number of the diseases she spoke of, she is resolute in her decision to go, despite her family being terrified for her.
"As a physician, as a mother, and as a human being, whenever there's this kind of a disaster, we need to give back to the community, and Pakistan is my home country. I grew up there," Dr. Alvi said. "There's a risk to me, but honestly speaking, my passion overcomes it."
Dr. Alvi's journey several week journey, which she will make with at least 30 other doctors, will take her to some of the hardest hit provinces in Pakistan. Her first few days will be focused on making an assessment of what medical relief will need to be given, though she underlined she is already making plans of what medical needs might need to be addressed urgently, especially when it comes to women's health.
"I was talking to one of the doctors, and he said that physicians are coming but he asked if anyone has given thought to all those women who are sitting all day in the scorching sun. There's no privacy, there are no washrooms. So, he requested that we should distribute some hygiene kits also; he said anything including some hygiene kits with sanitary pads and wipes."
Another possible medical catastrophe that Dr. Alvi and her colleagues may be up against is that hundreds of pregnant women in the affected areas will be giving birth in a matter of months. Without proper medical care, the women and their infants may be at particular risk of disease and death.
Dr. Alvi also expressed frustration and anguish at the fact that the Canadian government has thus far pledged $5 million in funding for humanitarian assistance in response to flooding in Pakistan. She noted that the number of those displaced in Pakistan is akin to the entire country of Canada being uprooted. In Dr. Alvi's view, the funding is 'a slap in the face to Pakistan'. However,
"It's really [an] injustice. The other thing we should address is, is why the floods are happening. Pakistan is a poor country, it has very little contribution to [CO2] emissions and the people of Pakistan, but are suffering from it and the Western world, they are the largest emitting countries."
According to various studies and reports, both Canada and the United States sit in the top ten CO2-emitting countries on the globe, while Pakistan ranks 50th or lower.
While Dr. Alvi will be travelling into the unknown from both a medical perspective and a logistical one, she said that she is ready, regardless of what she will encounter.
"If those people are just like me, are human beings like me, they are living in those situations without a home for that long. I can stay for a few days there."
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