Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Northern Ireland doctor saving lives in Pakistan

A young girl, who is a Pakistani flood survivor, is shown in the Sultan Colony, a refuge encampment
A young girl, who is a Pakistani flood survivor, is shown in the Sultan Colony, an refuge encampment, in the Province of Punjab, near the city of Multan, Pakistan. Pakistan is suffering from the worst flooding in 80 years as the army and aid organizations struggle to cope with the scope of the wide spread scale of the disaster which has killed thousands and displaced millions.
Pakistani villagers move to a safe place from a flood-hit village near Nowshera, Pakistan

A Northern Ireland doctor who has spent three weeks helping with the relief efforts in flood ravaged Pakistan has told of the utter devastation which is affecting millions.

Dr Mark Campbell (37), an anaesthetist from Dungannon, was in the country for just five days when it was hit by the worst floods in 80 years.

He was originally in the Lower Dir region to cover a staffing gap at the local Ministry of Health hospital in Timurgara as part of his first mission with medical organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — also known as Doctors Without Borders — when the monsoon rains set in.

Within a few days rivers burst their banks and thousands of homes were swept away leaving millions without shelter and accommodation.

Dr Campbell, who is now on his way to Afghanistan where he will spend the next few months volunteering in some of the most dangerous regions in the war-torn country, explained the situation was so bad that at one point staff feared they would run out of basic medical supplies.

“At one point, I was on my last vial of anaesthesia,” he said.

“We were really worried we would run out of essential drugs and materials. We managed in the end, but it was close.

“The mobile clinics were going out almost every day. We also have a cholera treatment centre on stand-by, but so far we haven’t seen any cases.

“I did see some cases of typhoid, whether related to the floods or not I can’t say.

“The main impact for us was on communications; the floods knocked out everything.

“The mobiles didn’t work, and the supposedly indestructible satellite phones were about as useful as a chocolate teapot, and even when we succeeded in getting mobile phone coverage, the network quickly became swamped which meant that this was not always a reliable form of contact either.

“We had enough staff for the hospital because they stayed on-call but it was very difficult to reach people urgently with all communications down.

“We had flood-related trauma cases coming in — people who had been injured in landslides or falling walls — and we couldn’t get hold of nurses for the operating theatre. It was chaotic.”

Dr Campbell said before the floods hit, demand for treatment was very high.

He said now there would be even further demand and appealed for people to dig deep to help out.

“The hospital is basic at the best of times, even the smallest hospital I’ve worked in Ireland can’t compare to it,” he said.

“There’s no CT scanner for instance.

“There are private clinics but many people cannot afford these, and that’s why MSF is here. Every day, except Sunday, there are queues at the ER and for OT.

“In the space of 19 days, we had 26 surgical cases. The one that stands out for me was a young girl whose leg had been torn open by a brick in the flood water. Her father was so grateful to us. If MSF was not there she would never have received the same level of care.

“MSF has people on the ground so any donations that we receive for the flood relief in Pakistan will be put to use immediately, there won’t be any delays.”

>To make a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders and for more information please visit

www.msf.ie

www.facebook.com/msfireland

www.twitter.com/MSF_ireland

>Further information about the relief effort available here

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