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SE1 doctors set up emergency hospital in earthquake zone

Doctors from SE1's hospitals have set up a field hospital amidst the rubble of a devastated mountain town to provide medical care to survivors of one of South East Asia's worst humanitarian disasters.

Dr Shakeel Qureshi, a consultant paediatric cardiologist and Mr Shamim Khan, a consultant urologist, both from Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, travelled to Bagh, a mountain town in Pakistan controlled Kashmir where an estimated 15,000 people died, to help treat survivors.

The two doctors flew out earlier this month with Dr Zahid Mukhtar, a paediatric surgical specialist registrar from Great Ormond Street Hospital, and Dr Khan's wife, who is a GP.

Conditions in Bagh were appalling and the doctors worked with limited equipment in makeshift tents to save hundreds of survivors who were injured in the earthquake. The emergency hospital provided both first aid medical care as well as more complex surgical and clinical procedures for patients.

Dr Qureshi, who spent nine days in Bagh and a further three days in Islamabad, says: "We had no electricity, running water or proper shelter and had limited equipment. The torrential rain made everything harder and at one point the emergency hospital was washed away. It was like a scene from MASH – but far, far worse.

"The makeshift hospital was set up in tents and we worked alongside local anaesthetists and surgeons to treat hundreds of patients. We saw terrible injuries – arm, leg and pelvic fractures and head and spinal injuries. Many of the injured had developed severe infections or gangrene because of the delay in getting help and we were forced to perform amputations."

Dr Muhktar, who spent nine days in the earthquake zone added: "The difficult terrain and cultural priority to bury the dead as soon as possible caused big delays in patients getting to the field hospital. Patients were often carried up to 50km on improvised stretchers through the mountains, reaching help a week to ten days after the quake."

The limited medical resources meant that the priority was saving lives. Patients who were more seriously injured or who needed specialist care were sent to Islamabad by helicopter for further treatment. The patients included two women who needed emergency caesareans.

In the days following the earthquake Dr Qureshi set up a fund to help victims and raised a staggering 19,000 in just 24 hours after ringing friends and relatives in the UK. The money was desperately needed and he spent 9,000 on equipment and supplies in the UK which he took to Pakistan with him – 6,000 on essential medicines and 3,000 on tents and blankets.

After arriving in Pakistan Dr Qureshi also discovered a severe shortage of orthopaedic equipment and spent a further 11,000 on essential items such as pins and compression plates to treat fractures.

He adds: "The majority of injuries that we saw were orthopaedic and the shortage of basic equipment was preventing us providing essential medical care."

Dr Mukhtar concludes that the world now needs to focus on providing shelter: "The emphasis was on dealing with the flood of injured people. Now, frankly, those who haven't been treated for injuries will have died or survived without help. It has already started to snow on the mountains and shelter and rehabilitation for the millions of survivors is urgent."

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