Dr. Aijaz Ahmad, 25, heads one of Malteser International’s mobile medical teams in southern Punjab. At the local Basic Health Unit (BHU) of the village GKMJ, he is responsible for treating the male patients.
Observing how you deal with your patients who come for consultation, one gets the impression that those people have huge confidence in you. How come?
Dr. Aijaz Ahmad: The main reason is, for sure, that I am from the area and that I grew up and went to school near here. That’s why I do not only speak Urdu (the national language) and Punjabi, the dominating language in our province, but also Seraiki which is only spoken in southern Punjab and northern Sindh. Everybody identifies me as a local. This is a big advantage if you want to win people’s confidence.
How did you join Malteser International?
AA: I studied at the medical school of Larkana University in the Sindh province and then went to Karachi as a doctor. From there, I had to witness the terrible images of the flood catastrophe and all the destructions last summer without being able to help. Some time later, a friend told me of Malteser International – that they wanted to get active in my home area and were looking for doctors. I applied spontaneously, as I wanted to personally help the people in my home area in a meaningful way. My application was accepted, and since mid-October 2010 I am working here as one of the first doctors for Malteser International.
How was the situation on the ground when you started working?
AA: When I came here, everything was still flooded. Many houses were destroyed or damaged. Only their ruins, trees, dams, levees and some higher spots of land loomed out of the water. People were suffering from skin diseases and diarrhoea because the water was contaminated by excrements.
And how is the situation today? Is Malteser International’s work – which also means your work – already showing some effects?
AA: There’s no doubt that there has been a clear progress. This is especially evident regarding the decrease of the diarrhoea rate. When I started my service, we had about 50 patients per day with diarrhoea only here at the BHU of GKMJ. Today, we only have an average of two! The number of patients suffering from skin diseases dropped remarkably as well.
Where does this success come from?
AA: We can now treat patients with effective medicines that were not available here before or that were not affordable for the poor population. In many cases, we can cure them – and this free of charge. But there are also other factors which contribute to the easing of the situation: First, after the floods have receded, people are no longer in permanent contact with the contaminated water and therefore the risk of infection. Second, our information efforts on hygiene and health prevention are having an effect. Third, Malteser International installed a water treatment plant next to the BHU that has provided safe drinking water to about 5,000 people in the village and surrounding areas for several months now.
Nevertheless, the queue of patients in front of your consultation room does not seem to end. Are there any particular problems you have to deal with?
AA: In our work, we have of course seasonal changes and diseases. Last winter, for instance, we had to deal with various respiratory tract infections like bronchitis, pneumonia and the flu. In spring, with rising temperatures, the number of these diseases dropped soon. But in summer, with the beginning of the next monsoon, we’ll have to face more cases of malaria and dengue. In other words, we doctors here are fighting a cycle of seasonal diseases like doctors at any other place. Additionally, malnutrition and undernourishment is very widespread with the babies and younger children here, which keeps us very tense. The good news is that we can, for the first time ever, offer medical services in this area. This is an offer which people are happy to make use of, and not just in case of diseases related to the floods.
Jorge Scholz, April 2011
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