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Last Updated: Monday, 9 October 2006, 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK
'I still worry about quake survivors'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Miss Swee Ang
Care is administered in a series of tents
As the world remembers the first anniversary of the South Asia quake, UK-based Dr Swee Ang remembers her work with 'hardy survivors'.

Dr Ang, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Barts and the Royal London, spent eight days in the Bagh region of Pakistan last year working for the Malaysian charity Mercy.

She arrived just weeks after the quake, which killed 73,000 and left about three million homeless. She has her own poignant memories of the people she met, particularly the children, and the sights she saw.

"The aerial view from the helicopter was breathtaking. Majestic mountain ranges with green pine forests, blue skies. These are the mountains of Kashmir - paradise on earth and rumoured to be Shangri-La.

Rubble

"However as the helicopter descended the devastation came into view.

"The houses on the banks of the Neelum river were heaps of rubble. The river had dried. A week ago dead bodies floated down the river, while the living tried to wash in the same water.

We met some wonderful children. They had beautiful faces. You wouldn't know it to look at them that they had lost their entire families
Dr Swee Ang

"Bagh had been wrecked by the earthquake. A city with 5,000 shops, two colleges, and a general hospital had become nothing but ruins and rubble.

"Relief organisations had put up numerous tents for the homeless which amounted to nearly every survivor.

"The handful of buildings left standing were not safe as they had massive structural damage and could collapse any moment, if not at the next afterquake."

She and a colleague were given the job of joining a mobile clinic to help vaccinate children against respiratory diseases.

"There was an urgency about this as the children needed to be immunised against respiratory diseases before the winter struck since being homeless during a Himalayan winter with a disease would spell death.

"We met some wonderful children. They had beautiful faces. You wouldn't know it to look at them that they had lost their entire families."

She said the Pakistan army was crucial in calling together the villagers in the mountains to attend the mobile clinic.

"A mental health clinic was also set up by Mercy's volunteer professor of clinical psychology, as by now it was clear that the stress of having lost home and loved ones was taking its toll on even the most stoic," she added.

Hardy

And it was this stoicism that deeply impressed Dr Ang.

"We were treating people with fractures and limb injuries. They were very hardy people.

"Those with broken legs would either walk, hopping on their good leg to the clinic, or arrive carried on a plank or a door by their family and friends.

"Often they would have walked for three or four days along the mountain tracks, and slept out in sub-zero temperatures at night.

Miss Swee Ang and earthquake survivors
Dr Ar Ang worked for eight days in Pakistan

"They were also very patient.

"I was used to patients in my NHS fracture clinic being annoyed if they waited longer than 30 minutes, but in the field hospital they would wait from early morning to the evening, and would sleep on the floor waiting to be seen and treated the next day if necessary."

Dr Ang said that despite the earthquake leaving the news agenda, there was still very much a current need.

"While for many the Pakistan earthquake was yesterday's news, on this first anniversary of the tragedy, I want to remember the resilience of the survivors.

"They have endured this calamity and are now courageously rebuilding their lives."

Help

And Dr Ang warned the survivors still desperately need help, particularly as they are facing their second winter without proper shelter.

"There are still an awful lot of orthopaedic injuries.

"There are people needing help still who had open fractures, these might have been treated at the time, but some of them may need to be re-broken; some people need to be fitted for prosthesis and there are people whose fractures had become infected."

Dr Ang said that she is still in close contact with medics in Bagh.

Credit :Shahidul Alam/Concern Worldwide.
Ballakot City, in Pakistan was reduced to rubble

"I have just spoken to one doctor in Pakistan who told me he has a lot of patients with chronic infections and orthopaedic injuries.

"I think I owe these people another visit, but it will be after the winter now."

And it is the winter that is worrying Dr Ang. She says that Pakistan's winter was not too harsh last year, but she said they might not be as lucky this winter.

"Thankfully, the winter passed and our friends in the earthquake area survived the predicted calamity of the big freeze.

"One old man remarked 'Allah is kind to us. He knew we had lost our homes, so he sent us an extra mild winter' and with that they continue to worship with thanksgiving."


SEE ALSO
Tent fire kills quake survivors
07 Dec 05 |  South Asia
Quake pledges exceed aid target
19 Nov 05 |  South Asia
Firefighters help quake victims
06 Dec 05 |  Nottinghamshire
UN pleads for more Pakistan funds
03 Dec 05 |  South Asia

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