In war-torn Pakistan, Wuhan doctor makes a difference

By Corey Cooper
0 CommentsPrint E-mail, April 22, 2011
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On Dec. 16, 2010 at 9:35 a.m., Dr. Zhang Dingyu received a call in his compound in Timergarah, a town in the Lower Dir district, deep in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, only several hundred kilometers from the Afghan border. A pregnant woman was in the maternity ward at the Lower Dir District Headquarters Hospital, suffering from pain so extreme she was barely able to maintain consciousness.

Dr. Zhang Dingyu at work

Dr. Zhang Dingyu at work [MSF] 

Zhang, an anesthesiologist from Wuhan, China, quickly travelled to the hospital from guarded living quarters by car. He is the second doctor from China's mainland to participate in Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)'s relief efforts in Pakistan, arriving last December for a three-month mission. Even though the hospital is only about a 10-minute walk from his dormitory, walking to the hospital posed an unacceptable security risk.

"At all times, vehicles on the street were fully armed with machine guns and rocket launchers," Zhang said. "We had to travel from our living compound to the hospital by car. It made me realize that we take for granted the peace that we enjoy at home."

Dir has become a hub for displaced people since 2007, when thousands of refugees began pouring into the region to escape the conflicts between Pakistani security forces and insurgents in the neighboring regions of Swat, Bajaur and Waziristan. According to a report on the Dir region by the New America Foundation, lack of access to health care has been one of the area's largest problems, with residents in remote mountain areas forced to bring patients hundreds of kilometers to Timergarah for treatment.

As an anesthesiologist, Zhang provided critical support to other medical specialists in emergencies and helped to train more than 100 locals to perform a wide variety of treatments, including how to administer drugs and other general practices. "Initially, the hospital had almost nothing except beds and sheets," Zhang said. Most of the medical supplies were brought in by the organization.

The large influx of refugees into the Lower Dir was one of the primary reasons for the MSF mission in Timergarah. In January 2010, the organization responded to the forced evacuation of 7,000 displaced people from the nearby town of Munda, organizing a refugee camp with drinking water, latrines, showers and medical assistance for victims.

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