With Assistance from Saudi Arabia, UNICEF Provides a Major Health Facility for the Earthquake-Affected People of Muzaffarabad
By: A Sami Malik
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, May 2010 – In the clean, spare waiting room of the Basic Health Unit (BHU) Muzaffarabad, a row of women chat as they wait for their turn. Each woman holds a card which records her child’s earlier vaccinations and the schedule for upcoming vaccinations. One by one the mothers go into the vaccination room with their children, where an agile vaccinator takes the ampoule out of a freezer to fill a new syringe and administer the vaccine. Everything here is bright and clean, gleaming in the summer sunlight of Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir. The newly constructed and well-equipped BHU opened only recently, and attracts hundreds of women from around the city and neighbouring villages.
“Every day, mothers bring their children here for polio and measles vaccination. We keep a sufficient stock of vaccines in our freezers and ensure that the required temperature is maintained. Even during the vaccination campaigns when our teams are out in the field, one vaccinator is always available in the BHU...,” says Azad Naqvi, one of the vaccinators.
Naz Bibi is one of the women waiting in line. She has brought her 18-month-old son for a measles vaccination. “It is easy to come to this place and we don’t have to stand in a queue to get our children examined by a doctor or to get them vaccinated,” she says enthusiastically. “Earlier, this was not a place we wanted to come for our health needs. It was a much smaller facility, with only one doctor and dispenser. We could never find any medicines here. Now, this is the best hospital in the area. I prefer to come here as I can get myself checked at the gynaecology ward and my children can get their vaccines.”
“Every day, mothers bring their children here for polio and measles vaccination. We keep a sufficient stock of vaccines in our freezers and ensure that the required temperature is maintained. Even during the vaccination campaigns when our teams are out in the field, one vaccinator is always available in the BHU for children who are brought here,” says Azad Naqvi, one of the vaccinators. “The people of this area are very particular about getting their children vaccinated and our BHU has become the centre of attraction for this purpose.”
The BHU Muzaffarabad represents a landmark achievement for UNICEF in its effort to Build Back Better following the devastating earthquake in October 2005 which killed 73,000 people and left 3.3 million homeless. Three-quarters of the nearly 800 health facilities in affected areas of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (then known as the North-West Frontier Province or NWFP), were destroyed or severely damaged. Amongst them was the old BHU Muzaffarabad, a small dilapidated structure which collapsed, killing 35 people.
With funding from the Saudi Public Assistance for Pakistan Earthquake Victims (SPAPEV), UNICEF undertook to rebuild this facility. Although BHUs normally offer primary care, since this one is located in the city centre, UNICEF and SPAPEV decided to build and equip a much larger facility, almost the size of a full-fledged district headquarter hospital.
Today, BHU Muzaffarabad, is the third-largest health facility in crowded Muzaffarabad, providing basic health facilities to nearly 2,000 people every month. Completed at a cost of Rs 25 million (approximately US$ 298,000), the BHU has fully functional outpatient and gynaecology wards, tuberculosis and immunization centres, and a training facility for Lady Health Workers (LHWs), a cadre of community-based women health workers.
“People from within the city and the outskirts of Muzaffarabad come to this BHU knowing that it has been constructed by the Saudis and UNICEF,” says Dr Haseena, the Assistant Principal Medical Officer and In-charge of the BHU. “It has multiple facilities under one roof and is accessible to majority of the district’s population. We train LHWs here, who go back to serve in their communities and encourage other young educated women to join the programme. They also bring to us complicated pregnancy cases which are examined here and advised if special care is needed.”
Dr Haseena takes pride in being in charge of the new BHU. She finds that the new, well-equipped surroundings motivate her staff as well, particularly in contrast to the dilapidated old BHU which was destroyed in the quake. “The residential quarters are within the compound which ensures that support staff is always available. Our pharmacy is fully functional and though we have the occasional shortage of medicines, it does not keep people from coming here as they can easily buy the medicines from medical stores right next to the BHU. On average, about 70 to 80 people come to the BHU every day and the number continues to grow.”