Team will try again to bring victims of Pakistan quake the supplies they need.
Madhu Krishnamurthy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
December 24, 2005 – Soon after a Libertyville anesthesiologist and his son arrived in Pakistan with earthquake relief supplies, their good intentions were met with ground realities.
Pakistani customs officials at Islamabad International Airport seized their 48 boxes of medicines earmarked for survivors of the Oct. 8 quake near the nation’s capital, Islamabad.
Similar supplies arriving at the airport from around the world were being routed to the President’s Relief Fund for Earthquake Victims, to be later released for distribution.
The 7.6 magnitude quake claimed more than 80,000 lives, injured tens of thousands and left up to three million homeless.
Painkillers, anesthetics and antibiotics donated by U.S. pharmaceutical companies and the Lake County community were tied up in the enormity of the relief effort and bureaucracy.
“There were so many relief supplies at the airport and the area where the planes were taxiing … they really have no idea what to do with it,” Arif Hussain said. “It seemed like a daunting task.”
Arif joined his father, Inam Hussain, on the medical mission in October, and talked about the trip last week.
Pakistani officials finally decided not to include the Lake County supplies as part of the President’s Relief Fund and returned them to the Hussains 12 days after the supplies were seized. By that time, some drugs had expired, said Inam, president of Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville.
It was perhaps the biggest blunder of the relief effort, said Inam, who also heads the Midwest Earthquake Task Force of Helping Hand/Islamic Circle of North America Relief, an international humanitarian relief and development agency.
Though he blames Pakistani authorities for being disorganized, Inam said the drugs were available locally, making foreign supplies redundant.
Lesson learned, organizers are now asking people to give according to the needs of the hour.
“The acute phase is finished. Now it’s rehab,” said Inam, who helped coordinate medical relief and assisted in some surgeries during his trip. “The people who have had orthopedic surgeries, they will be needing prosthetics, artificial limbs, physical and occupational therapy.”
Inam is gearing up for another medical mission to Pakistan on Dec. 31. He said doctors are now seeing the spread of infectious diseases, colds and upper respiratory infections due to cold weather.
Even as the death toll climbs, there is no measure of the psychological toll the earthquake is taking on those left behind.
During his brief stay, Arif absorbed some of that pain.
“The most difficult thing that I saw was there were so many buildings destroyed and there are people still buried inside,” said Arif, who starts medical school this fall at Midwestern University in Downers Grove. “It was almost as though the mountains came down and buried everyone.”
A rescue scene where Pakistani soldiers tried to dig out bodies from the rubble of a shop with their bare hands, pick axes and shovels remains etched in his mind.
“As they were unraveling the bodies, the smell became very intense,” Arif recalled. “That smell, you could smell throughout the city. They were like burning incense to keep the smell away. …I was trying to imagine how much of a psychological effect this would have on them.”
The needs down the road will be far greater and beyond the medical realm, Arif said.
“What to do with people who have no homes, no jobs now?” he asked. “As it slowly disappears from the news, people will soon forget about it, and there won’t be as heightened a level of relief and donations that is necessary for these tasks in the long run.”
Relief organizers are appealing to physicians to donate medical equipment. They say medical personnel in Pakistan are using scrounged equipment 30 years old.
Donations of items to help survivors battle winter, such as reinforced tents, warm clothes and cold medicines, are sought.
Helping Hand plans to establish two regional rehabilitation centers and convert four field tent hospitals into fixed structures.
Donations can be in the form of money or sponsorship of an X-ray machine, lab machine or emergency room, said Ikram Hussain, Helping Hand president and a Lombard radiology technologist.
Helping Hand has raised $8.2 million for earthquake relief and collected an extra $365,000 through fund-raisers in various cities.
“The drive is ongoing right now … (at) corner meetings, Tupperware parties, but we are not selling Tupperware,” Ikram Hussain said.
Article Courtesy: Daily Herald