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Health Concerns Facing Refugees in Pakistan

  • May 21, 2009

As nearly one million innocent people in Pakistan flee from violence between Taliban forces and their government, AmeriCares sent emergency medical aid to help address the desperate health care needs at crowded refugee camps.

From supplies to treat injuries inflicted by Taliban militants to medicines for vulnerable mothers and children seeking safety, AmeriCares is committed to helping families displaced by the conflict in Pakistan. AmeriCares Medical Director, Dr. Frank Bia, MD, MPH, explains refugee-related health concerns and the aid we sent in response.

What are the health issues facing families living in Pakistan’s refugee camps?

Many civilians were wounded in the fighting and seek treatment at the camps. Without basic medical care, there is a risk of serious infection and even death. Foot and leg infections are also very common as thousands walked over 30 miles on dirt roads to reach safety, many of them without shoes on their feet.

How is AmeriCares helping wounded and injured refugees?

AmeriCares sent critical supplies to help surgeons operate on and treat serious injuries. Sterile sutures, syringes, gloves, and disinfectants are essential for safe surgeries. To help people heal and avoid infections after surgery, AmeriCares also sent IV antibiotics and topical skin treatments.

What are some of the other most serious concerns?

Dehydration is a huge issue. People in the camps have been living in 100-degree heat for days with little access to safe drinking water. Children are very sensitive to dehydration. Dehydration can become life-threatening when left untreated and organ failure sets in.

What is AmeriCares doing to help address dehydration?

AmeriCares sent fever-reducing medicines which are critical for treating and preventing further dehydration, especially in children.

What kind of impact does the violence have on  people and what health concerns arise because of it?

Mental health care is a serious concern, especially for children who can be emotionally scarred for life. Many of the refugees have witnessed terrible atrocities carried out by the Taliban – public beheadings, civilians used as human shields; others have watched their parents die. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, formerly known as “shell-shock”, affects victims of war as well as soldiers. AmeriCares sent medications for children suffering from acute stress.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of elderly grandparents are among the people displaced by the conflict. Are there any special health issues with the elderly community?

Even common, chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can become major medical issues when the elderly run out of their medicines. AmeriCares routinely sends the medicines for common chronic illnesses to Pakistan through our ongoing medical aid program. Those medicines are currently bound for the refugee camps to help treat this very vulnerable population.

What are the health risks associated with people crowded so closely together in the refugee camps?

As we’ve seen in similar situations, water systems that once provided safe drinking water can easily get contaminated with excess sewage when the population surges quickly. Due to cramped conditions and limited personal hygiene resources, some diseases can spread like wild fire once a few people get sick. Waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery spread rapidly under these conditions.

What is AmeriCares doing to address infectious diseases in Pakistan’s refugee camps?

Among other things, antibiotics were delivered as part of AmeriCares emergency response. These medicines can be used to fight common diseases caused by waterborne infections.

Help AmeriCares save lives in Pakistan and around the world. »