Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Let the Cuban doctors come to Pakistan!

Rahimullah Yusufzai


A BBC TV report by Gavin Hewitt from Abbottabad highlighted the plight of overworked doctors as they try to cope with an unending flow of people injured in the October 8 earthquake. One of the younger surgeons said he had performed around 100 amputations on patients with gangrenous limbs. Senior surgeon Dr Sahibzada made a telling parting remark. He said instead of money (he used the word pound) there was a need for skilled doctors to undertake the mounting load of work at the Ayub Teaching Hospital, Abbottabad and other hospitals in the quake-affected region.


We must seek advise from people such as Dr Sahibzada while making contingency medical plans to cope with the tragedy that has struck Pakistan. He and his colleagues need helping hands to treat patients and perform surgeries. This reminds one of the generous offer made by President Fidel Castro of Cuba to send 200 doctors specialised in natural disasters and serious epidemics to help the earthquake affectees. The Cuban government has made it clear that it would bear all expenses relating to transportation of the doctors while requisite stock of medicines would also be sent to Pakistan.


It is learnt that the Pakistan government has conveyed to Cuba that it wants 50 doctors only. One hopes Islamabad would review its decision and let all 200 doctors come to Pakistan. We need many more doctors, nurses and paramedics in view of the unprecedented scale of the death and destruction wrought by the earthquake. Hundreds of injured people are flocking to hospitals in Azad Kashmir, Mansehra, Battagram, Abbottabad, Dassu, Swat, Peshawar and even Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Lahore. A UN report said 1,000 hospitals, mostly small ones, in Pakistan have been destroyed in the earthquake, prompting the government to make an urgent appeal to the international community for field hospitals, antibiotics, anti-typhoid medicines, fracture treatment kits, and surgical equipment.


One is sure the Cubans would be able to contribute a lot toward meeting this need. Their doctors have served in Third World countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia and have done commendable work to earn the affection of their patients and the gratitude of numerous communities and governments. They also possess experience in working in tough conditions and dealing with natural disasters and epidemics. The Cubans are best suited to working in conditions prevailing in poor developing countries such as Pakistan.


They have proved time and again that good results could be achieved with minimum resources. Despite US-sponsored economic sanctions and limited resources, Cuba has been able to offer its citizens an efficient health delivery system that has earned praise from international organizations.


In fact, we could learn a lot from the Cuban doctors and medical administrators and apply some of the lessons learnt to improve our hopelessly inadequate health delivery system. A number of countries have benefited from the Cuban experience and Pakistan too would gain rather than lose anything by experimenting with methods employed by Mr Castro's revolutionary government to build one of the best health delivery systems in the world. By opting not to benefit from the well-meaning and generous Cuban offer, Pakistan would be depriving its hapless earthquake affectees of an opportunity to benefit from badly needed medical treatment at the hands of men and women who have worked in places hit by natural calamities and epidemics. Rather it would be cruel to ask President Castro not to send Cuban doctors to Pakistan, or dispatch only 50. We need each one of those 200 Cuban doctors waiting to fly to Pakistan for the sake of the thousands of injured quake victims lining up at overcrowded hospitals and losing precious time that could save lives.


The writer is an executive editor of The News in Peshawar

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