Safdar Chok becomes first 'health-care village' in the heart of Pakistan earthquake region

Ahmad is smiling again. On Thursday, November 10, one month after the earthquake that devastated northern Pakistan, he and his family moved into the Safdar Chok "health-care village" that MSF built inside the town of Mansehra in partnership with the Noor Foundation, a local nonprofit organization. The little camp provides 25 families with appropriate housing (such as tents and mattresses), along with health infrastructure (latrines, showers, and drinking water) and medical monitoring by the MSF team.

Balakot a field of ruins

On Saturday, October 8, the morning of the earthquake, Ahmad was on the street in Balakot, the town where he was born, in the North-West Frontier Province. "As soon as the shaking started, I ran and then a wall collapsed on me," he recounts. He managed to escape and the injury to his leg was not serious. But his sister-in-law and one of his nieces died beneath the ruins of their house, as did hundreds of other victims in Balakot, where every building was affected. The many seriously wounded people from Balakot and neighboring villages were transported to the region's referral hospitals.

Eight thousand wounded people arrive in Mansehra within 72 hours

Some 8,000 wounded people flooded into Mansehra. The district hospital buildings there sustained serious damage. The local surgical team worked non-stop in extremely precarious conditions—carrying out major surgeries, setting fractures, and performing amputations. Because of the numerous aftershocks, post-operative patients could not be housed in the weakened hospital. "We had no choice," Ahmad explains. "Our house was destroyed so we moved into the tents next to the hospital." He arrived there with his sister, two of his brothers and his brother-in-law.

When MSF began providing support to the Mansehra hospital, the first—and urgent—task was to improve the terrible hospitalization conditions. While our medical team, composed of an orthopedic surgeon, surgical nurse, doctor and three nurses, reinforced the local staff, MSF logisticians set up health infrastructure and six large tents. Each tent housed approximately 20 wounded people and their family members. But 140 makeshift tents remained on a piece of land behind the hospital enclosure. Nearly 250 families (some 900 people), including Ahmad's, were crammed into them. Each tent housed at least one wounded person. Some still required medical care; others had been discharged but had nowhere to go.

Transforming a vacant lot into a 'health-care village'

These families needed medical care inside the hospital, but they also needed help to ensure decent living conditions before the arrival of winter. MSF distributed tents appropriate to the climate, blankets, cooking supplies, and a hygiene kit to those people who wanted to return to their villages. For now, 68 families have chosen that option. For those who wanted to stay in Mansehra, MSF identified available land in the town and contacted local nonprofit groups to work with to set up these health-care villages.

Over two days of intense work, Noor Foundation volunteers, along with Winfried, the MSF logistician, transformed Safdar Chok's empty lot. "We had to smooth out the ground, dig ditches for the latrines, build a promontory on which to place the water reservoir, set up large family tents, and find a connection location for electrical service," Winfried explains. But the smiles of the first families to move to the site—in contrast to the sad atmosphere in the tents near the hospital—rewarded the entire team. Every day, Francesca, a nurse, and Caroline, a doctor, provide medical care and change wound dressings.

The second health-care village opened on Tuesday, November 15, and work is scheduled to begin this week on two other sites. The rains have begun in Mansehra, winter is approaching and the race against time is still on.