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Pakistan: Doctor Recalls Aiding Quake Victims Ahead Of World Health Day

Victims of earthquake in Kashmir (AFP) April 7 is World Health Day, and this year the United Nations is dedicating it to all the people who, every day, save lives and give others the care and treatment they need. Health workers often do their job in extremely difficult circumstances.

PRAGUE, April 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- RFE/RL spoke to a Pakistani doctor who was one of the first to reach people affected by the devastating earthquake in October 2005, Fazal Akhtar of Karachi's Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation.

Akhtar:My initial impression was that perhaps it was a minor earthquake, but then we realized that a lot of people must have died over a large area. We knew from the experience of Turkey and Armenia that there would be a lot of people with renal failure because of the [shortage of drinking water].

We started packing up: dialysis machines, we took everything. The team was about 25 people -- doctors, nurses, paramedic staff, everybody. First of all we were trying to get some help with the government, but in the end we bought our tickets from our own pockets. We reached Abbotabad on the afternoon of October 10.

Most of the buildings had collapsed. And the people, they were lying usually in the tents. The Pakistani population when someone has died they start crying, shouting, [but] they weren't crying, they were just sitting silently in a state of shock.

The other thing that struck me was the lack of women and children. The reason was that the earthquake happened at 8:50 [a.m.], and most of the women and children were at home at that time while the men were outside, so most of the women and children had died.

We used to get aftershocks in the hospital and people were extremely scared, they started screaming, and the patients would be on the beds an the relatives would push the beds outside the hospital, anywhere. When I established my dialysis unit we had seven or eight patients and I stayed there almost 24 hours and said to them, "If something is going to happen to you, I will die first and I will die with you."

It was very exhausting and it was Ramadan as well, so that means we have to fast as well, and so I used to fast during the day, and then we used to continue on working. But people were very helpful, they used to bring food for us when we broke our fast.

There was a young man, 20 years old, he was a student of Muzaffarabad University and when this thing happened he was still at home. He was trapped in the rubble, both of his legs were injured. And the family, with the help of other people [he] was brought to the hospital. The father himself carried him for several miles on this back. After we treated him, we came back [to Karachi] after our two weeks and we brought all our patients from Abbotabad to Karachi here. He was treated and now he has completely recovered and he rang me a couple of weeks ago that he got engaged.

I worked in the army for two years, but never in such circumstances like this. It was a different experience, I am glad I was there and I was able to save someone's life.