x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The UAE teams that saved so many lives in Pakistan

Hundreds of the flood affected were treated each day for disease and malnutrition.

Dr Saif pulls out his mobile phone and shows a picture of an emaciated girl connected to an intravenous drip.

Her skin was so dry, he said, that they had difficulty inserting the needle that helped save her life.

The girl's case illustrates the health disaster facing the UAE Armed Forces major's medical team in Pakistan.

The first decision on arrival in early August was to split the team into two units - an airborne component on Chinook helicopters, and a unit that searched overland for flood victims.

"Why didn't I just get a [portable] hospital and just open it there?" asked Dr Saif, who requested that his full name not be used. "I have to go to people, not wait for them to come to me."

The risk of disease was significant with the abundance of floodwater and hot, humid weather, as well as contaminated drinking water.

"We didn't want band-aids," said Brig Gen Abdulrahman Abdullah, the commander of the relief forces. "We wanted to solve the problem."

The ground ambulance and the Chinooks provided crucial mobility.

"Being mobile, we saw more," Dr Saif said. "Others came and opened hospitals. But compared to us, they didn't see as many people. They simply couldn't reach them. We reached them."

That meant the UAE team saw 300 to 500 patients on average every day - a massive undertaking.

"We saw tragedies," Dr Saif said. Children suffered primarily from malnutrition and diarrhoea. Older people who drank contaminated water also suffered from diarrhoea, malaria and various skin ailments. Some were treated for cholera.

The team brought their own medical supplies, having anticipated some of the needs, and more supplies arrived from the UAE later.

They also brought in female Pakistani nurses to work under the supervision of the ground teams, to help with translation and to provide health care to conservative women who might be uncomfortable being treated by men.

The medical team had emergency doctors, a preventative medicine specialist and a dermatologist, said Warrant Officer Ahmed al Kaabi, a nurse with the medical team in charge of the supplies of equipment and medicine. "We were ready for any emergencies."

kshaheen@thenational.ae