A cataclysmic Kashmir earthquake took place on 8 October 2005 measuring at a magnitude of 7.6. The death toll of Pakistan after the quake stood at 87 350 with approximately 138 000 injured and 3.5 million people left homeless. According to Pakistani government figures, 19 000 children died due to a widespread collapse of school buildings.
Gift of the Givers Response:
Ours one of the first disaster relief agencies in the world to respond to the utter devastation resulting from the quake which destroyed a swathe of towns and villages in the remote North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir region. In an emotionally intense humanitarian mission, we took more than 40 medical specialists - including, for the first time, trauma and post-op rehabilitation specialists - divided into six medical teams to Pakistan.
We also mounted a huge aid package programme, initially providing 5 500 tents, 60 000 blankets, 60 tons of corrugated sheeting, 20 tons of food, a range of medical equipment and supplies, vast quantities of medicines, a number of generators, new clothing and toys. This was soon followed by a further 2 000 tents and another 5 000 blankets. We also facilitated the provision of anti-tetanus globulin, which was flown from India to Pakistan. In all, our aid package for the victims of the earthquake totalled well in excess of R11 million.
We dispatched one of our medical teams to Sudhan Gali, a mountainous region in Bagh and one of the worst-affected areas in the country. The team and its medical supplies were the one of the first to arrive and immediately faced exceptionally trying conditions, including the intense cold of winter in the mountains, a lack of water and very poor sanitation, but quickly got to grips with dealing with a plethora of medical conditions requiring urgent attention.
The Pakistani authorities were so impressed with our highly-skilled team of specialists, inclusive of former Pakistani nationals - now with South African citizenship - that they passed the Canton General Hospital of Pindi into our care. This 60-bed facility had been earmarked for closure, due to a lack of beds, medical supplies, nursing and support staff. There existed a semi-functioning operating theatre and only one orthopaedic surgeon and anaesthetist. Such was the impact of our medical team on the hospital that the then Prime Minister, other Ministers and military representatives visited, praising the South African effort and promising - on national TV - additional equipment and supplies. Within 24 hours, we had succeeded in securing medical equipment and supplies, valued at R2 million, from the Pakistani authorities. In addition, we secured doctors, nurses and support staff from Lahore, Karachi and Cuba.
The result was our ability to transform the facility into a 300-bed emergency hospital, performing 250 operations in just five days. We had five functional operating theatres and no patient was left lying on the floor. We also brought in a clinical psychologist to counsel victims of the horrific quake and the destruction it caused. We created a 'toy corner' for children in the hospital and presented every patient with a gift of R500.
Three medical teams rotated duty at the hospital and a contingent of nurses was sent to the hospital to assist with the transfer of nursing skills, for the benefit of the local medical community.
Every member of our medical teams, together with the South African High Commissioner, received awards from the Pakistani authorities for Meritorious Service to the people of Pakistan.