U.S. medics meet Pakistanis’ needs
SHINKIARI, Pakistan – In the eight weeks since an earthquake destroyed his home, Muhamad Nawaz has lived in a tent with his wife, six children and four brothers. He has no electricity, no running water, no gas.
Thanks to the U.S. Marines, however, he does have basic medical care.
The American military – which responded with humanitarian aid after last year’s deadly tsunami – has once again mobilized in South Asia, where millions were left homeless by an Oct. 8 quake that killed an estimated 87,000 people.
In the hard-hit city of Muzaffarabad, the Army has a MASH unit up and running. The Air Force is operating cargo missions from Islamabad. Navy doctors are performing operations, and Marine helicopters buzz through the skies over Shinkiari.
Nawaz is one of more than 2,800 Pakistanis who have sought treatment for everything from broken hips to rotten teeth at a U.S. military field hospital, run mainly by the Marines and Navy in this dusty town in northern Pakistan.
The hospital has an emergency room, X-ray equipment, an operating room and a pharmacy. Two surgeons and two dentists are deployed here, along with a half-dozen nurses and Marines ready to evacuate seriously injured patients by helicopter or ambulance.
“Our mission is simply to alleviate suffering and be self-sufficient,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Gannon, the base commander. More than half the 220 or so troops were also involved in tsunami relief, mainly in Sri Lanka.
Gannon said the Marines are in for the long haul. “We’re here at least through the winter,” he said.
The hospital is surprisingly quiet.
Even though it is surrounded by a refugee tent village, its 60-cot ward is often empty. And like most of the other patients, Nawaz’s medical problem has nothing to do with the quake – he has a skin condition on his knee.
“Few of the problems we are treating are directly related to the quake,” said Lt. Kimberly Livingston, a Navy doctor. “We’re trying to be here for them while their own health care system is being rebuilt.”
Livingston, of Lone Star, Texas, said that with more than half the area’s clinics destroyed, most of the ailments the doctors treat are chronic and not life-threatening. She said she has seen mainly arthritis or asthma and other respiratory problems.
Part of the reason for the relative calm is location.
Though collapsed buildings and refugee camps line the main street, this town was not among the hardest hit by the quake. Shops and inns are open, and the marketplace buzzes with activity.
The weeks ahead could be difficult, however, as winter sets in.
Base commander Gannon said the field hospital was set up in a valley where refugees are expected to come when the severe cold hits the higher elevations.
Snow-covered peaks line the Shinkiari horizon. Beyond this village, the roads narrow, making them too small for the Marines’ vehicles.
“This is about as forward as we could have gone,” Gannon said, adding that “most direct victims of the earthquake have been treated and evacuated, or have died.”
Capt. Danny Chung, the base spokesman, said the winter is likely to create a new wave of problems, including an increase in serious burn cases caused by tent fires.
“We had a little girl in here whose back and arms were burned very badly when she was caught in a fire in her tent,” he said. “There could well be more of that when the winter really sets in.”
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