Health, shelter and food security: A Pakistan update from CWS Health Specialist Dr. Qamar Zaman

CWS's Chris Herlinger, who reported from Pakistan in September, recently interviewed CWS Health Specialist Dr. Qamar Zaman, based in Mansehra, Pakistan, about the current humanitarian situation in Pakistan and about new aspects of the CWS response.

Dr. Qamar Zaman
CWS Health Specialist Dr. Qamar Zaman.
Photo: Chris Herlinger/CWS

The floods that inundated one-fifth of Pakistan's land mass and affected some 18 million persons no longer command headlines in the United States. But Pakistanis continue their long path toward recovery –- efforts that will take years, say humanitarian officials.

CWS's Chris Herlinger, who reported from Pakistan in September, recently interviewed CWS Health Specialist Dr. Qamar Zaman, based at the CWS offices in Mansehra, Pakistan, about the current humanitarian situation in Pakistan and about new aspects of the CWS response.

CH: What are the continuing concerns and worries in Pakistan and how are people faring?
QZ:  Now with the winter season approaching and temperatures dropping below zero in the evenings, in most of the areas where we are working we are getting a big load of respiratory tract infection cases. This is especially the case among children who are most vulnerable because they are living where there is no proper heating available -- if they have any shelter at all.

We are seeing that the problem is with upper respiratory tract infections -- though we're seeing that children and elderly are also suffering from lower respiratory tract infections. We fear that if no timely interventions are made on a larger scale, we are going to see pneumonia cases, which eventually could lead to high infant and child morbidity and mortality.

Another concern we have is for people who lack adequate shelter or are shelterless and are at the mercy of God because of extreme poverty. Either they are sharing one-room accommodations with their relatives or are in tents which are not winterized and thus are prone to winter-borne diseases.

CH: What is CWS doing in the face of such conditions?

QZ: CWS has equipped its health units in the Kohistan district (province) with essential medicine for the treatment of respiratory tract infections and pneumonia. Our female health staff and doctors also conducting health education sessions on the prevention of respiratory tract infections to keep the numbers at a minimum.
CH: Are there particular concerns about different parts of the country; is the issue of respiratory tract infection more dire in the north than in the south, for example?

QZ: Well, from the health perspective overall, this year we had the highest number of reported Dengue fever cases in the country if we compare them with the last 20 years. Also, there were deaths due to poor infrastructure and an over-burdened health system. So that is the situation in the country as a whole. The respiratory tract infection cases are more in the northern half of the country but will increase as winter sets in and once the rain starts. We've been lucky in at least one respect in recent weeks: The weather has been dry in almost all parts of the country. But that won't last.

CH: There were initial concerns in September about the threat of famine following the floods, but that, thankfully, does not appear to have happened. Still, food security remains a huge issue. How do you assess the food security situation now?
QZ: The World Food program did an excellent job, along with other major donors like USAID (United States Agency for International Development), CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), as well as our own work in distributing much-needed food packages. Food distribution is still active in almost all parts of the country because poor people don't have the financial muscle anymore to purchase many food items. U.S. Chinook helicopters are still dropping food in areas like Kohistan, which were worst-hit by flooding. Incredibly, there are areas that are still not accessible by road.

Food security remains an issue, so CWS is introducing livelihood programs for people and is planning to distribute cows among the people of the worst-hit areas to keep them going at least for some time.

This would be for the most vulnerable affected by the floods. The idea is for people to milk the cows and use this milk for the family, especially for children who desperately need milk; it's almost impossible for the family to purchase milk from the market because of the extreme poverty. As always, given our beneficiary selection criteria, we give first priority to widows and women with children in the worst-hit areas.
CH: Is there anything you'd like to convey to CWS supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere about the situation in Pakistan, a situation that many have probably forgotten now, now that it has been out of the news recently in the United States? There seems particular poignancy in remembering the people of Pakistan during the holiday season.

QZ: Well, during the holiday season when people are with their loved ones in front of the warm winter fire with a decorated Christmas tree, they should close their eyes for a minute and think of those infants and children who do not have any shelter at all in Pakistan. It's not the fault of these children that they were born this year -- or an earlier year in the north, where people have long been vulnerable to pneumonia and often early death because of the lack of shelter, warm clothing, warm milk and food.

I think we as fellow human beings can help them to at least survive this winter in the name of God who is kind and has blessed us with all possible comforts of life.

CWS has distributed of 24,200 food packages that benefited 137,400 individuals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Sindh provinces. In the same provinces, CWS has distributed non-food items, including 2,010 tents and 1,000 plastic sheets, which are benefitting 88,000 individuals.

CWS continues to provide health services through health centers and ten mobile health units in Mansehra, Kohistan, Swat, and D. I. Khan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and in Khairpur and Sukkur in Sindh Province. As of December 2010, the health teams have conducted more than 100,000 consultations and hundreds of health training sessions.


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