The Boston Contribution
to the Quake Relief Effort
By Fauzia Wali Khan, MD
St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, Boston
Asst. Professor of Clinical Psychiatry
Tufts University School of Medicine
Jawad Ahmad gives a memorable
performance in Boston
disasters have a cynical side to them. Who could have ever
thought that Pakistani physicians of diverse backgrounds,
separated from their country of origin for almost two decades;
immersed in their new homeland, building there lives would
suddenly galvanize and undertake an effort to help out in
the relief effort in earthquake struck Pakistan.
Such is this story, of a small community of physicians in
Boston, Massachusetts. After the earthquake of 2005, the
immediate response of most Pakistani’s in the US was
a sense of personal loss, shock, and a soul searching personal
dialogue with Allah.
In the initial phases of the relief effort it became obvious
from the news from Pakistan; that the earthquake devastation
was catastrophic and no nation however industrialized could
manage a disaster relief of this magnitude. Lack of emergency
planning, logistical and geographical issues; have since
been debated endlessly. The absence of life saving equipment
and knowhow of organized disaster relief effort was apparent.
In some cases the destruction was complete, annihilating
entire towns and villages. The approaching winter added
insult to injury. The health care system was completely
destroyed in Muzaffarabad with the destruction of the military
hospital and two major civil hospitals. These three hospitals
lost 34 nurses and 18 doctors at a tertiary care level,
compounded by complete destruction of health care system
at a primary care level in several valleys.
One such hospital that was partially destroyed was Ayub
teaching hospital in Abbotabad. This is a tertiary care
facility catering to a population of about 2.5 to 3 million
people, providing tertiary care to patients from places
such as Mansehra, Balakot, Batagaram, and Alai etc. After
the quake it was the only large surviving facility in the
Northern areas and it received causalities from places as
far as the Kashmir valley. This hospital saw major injuries
in the aftermath of the earthquake and in the first several
weeks catered to almost 7000 patients per day. In the first
few days of the disaster, the hospital used up all its paper
supply; such that records were kept by writing on patients
It was here in Abbottabad, that the foundation of Pakistan’s
first privately run Disaster Management Center was envisioned.
arranged by APPNE in use
Association of Pakistani Physicians of New England (APPNE)
is the local chapter of the larger Association of physicians
of Pakistani decent of North America. (APPNA) Many of its
members are from the northern areas; and like its parent
organization, the initial phases of the relief effort was
mostly for medications, surgical equipment, shelter, food
supplies and clothing of the 2.5 to 3 million people suddenly
APPNE recognized early on that what ever relief effort was
to be undertaken had to be a collaboration between organizations
with funds, supplies and equipment and most importantly
a reliable, indigenous physician group that could undertake
the ,facilitation, implementation and delivery of the relief
supplies we were to donate. Doctors who had grown up in
Abbottabad/ Mansehra region were able to identify a small
group on the ground called Abbottonian Medical Assoc. It
was run by a local Abbbottabad physician Dr. Nouman Siddiqui,
a pathologist at Ayub Teaching Hospital, his team had been
providing basic health care services, medical camps and
the Thallesemia program for a number of years.. Dr. Nouman
Siddiqui and his alliance with the Hussaini Blood Bank and
Altaf Nazim of Karachi had already supported a steady supply
of emergency blood and blood products for acute trauma victims.
Their reputation, credibility and most importantly the steady
stream of volunteers consisting of staff and students, from
local colleges was considered an invaluable partner.
Here was a nation of volunteers, all of whom had been affected
by the quake, willingly and tirelessly ready to assist and
assume the role of caregivers on the ground.
From the beginning it became clear to APPNE physicians that
disaster management and preparedness was the only long-term
solution to preventing major loss of life and injury in
the initial phase of a disaster. This was a ‘needs
assessment emergency preparedness model’ we learnt
from the world famous Disaster Emergency Response Team at
the Mass General Hospital.
Dr. Susan Briggs and her Emergency Disaster Response team
having recently returned from the Hurricane Katrina tragedy
were instrumental in guiding APPNE’s vision of developing
a self-sustaining, self-perpetuating setup that would eventually;
not be donation dependant … a lesson we Pakistani-American
physicians have learned from our American way of life and
years of practice in this wonderful country.to help, assist,
create, enable and empower people and not to disable or
create dependency .
Our efforts as a team and as Individual physicians; living,
contributing and providing quality healthcare and training
as valuable members of local American communities made community
outreach here in the Boston area all the more meaningful.
and the tremendous American response even more gratifying..
In the first four months after the disaster, over two hundred
thousand dollars were raised through the help of fundraisers.
This effort involved collaboration with organizations such
as The Massachusetts Medical Society, Indian Medical Association
of New England (IMANE), Abbottonian Old Boys Association
of North America and several private donors. Funds were
also raised through local mosques, Islamic centers, churches
and small businesses. These funds were utilized to purchase
two fully equipped state of the art Lifecare ambulances
that were used in multiple air rescue missions with the
Data collection equipment (laptop computers, storage devices,
cameras, and projectors), tents and vaccines etc. thanks
to the years of research training skills of Nadeem Afridi,
MD, PhD, enabled our disaster management team of Dr. Nouman;
a skilled photographer, to document, tabulate and record
data of every individual life passing thru their treatment
In the initial phase of the disaster there was a dearth
of qualified doctors in the field. New England area physicians,
entirely self-funded went over in groups to work there Boston
area anesthesiologists, surgeons, internists, cardiologists,
oncologists, psychiatrists and neurologists were also an
invaluable source of feed back to APPNE in directing its
response to disaster relief.
To obtain surgical equipment for orthopedic, head and spinal
injuries, APPNE collaborated with several hospitals including
Massachusetts General Hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Medical
Center, Holy Family Hosp, Anna Jacques Hospital and others
who donated drills, artificial hips, pins, screws, walking
sticks, crutches, and splints etc for the injured. These
were immediately used by a team of orthopedic surgeons from
England working on site in Abbottabad.
Transportation of large air and sea shipments to Pakistan
was facilitated with the help of Pakistani consulates here
in Boston and New York and the Pakistan International Airlines.
APPNE physicians Drs.Zahra and Saad Ayub collaborated with
Direct Relief (an international aid organization) which
donated one million dollars worth of medications including
antibiotics and vaccines. Glaxo Labs also donated several
thousand dollars worth of antibiotics.
Through a matching grant from Rotary Club APPNE was able
to buy 100 wheel chairs from Wheel Chair Foundation. The
amazing thing is that the Foundation tripled the wheel chairs
to 300 (at no cost) once they found out that they would
be donated to the injured and amputees from the earthquake.
The most notable achievement of APPNE is the establishment
of the Disaster Management Center in Abbottabad. Please
check it out on www.dmcrelief.com This was a need that should
have been met long time ago since this entire region sits
on at least three tectonic plates making it extremely vulnerable
to earthquake related disaster.
This center was finally set up through a 250 thousand dollars
grant from Direct relief. This center is located in Abbottabad
next to Ayub teaching hospital and run by 5 fully paid staff.
It has its own ware house, and vocational center for women
who have lost their husbands. It has its audiovisual room
and data base site.
During APPNE physicians initial visits to disaster areas
two schools for the disabled were identified for extending
support. The Lighthouse School for Blind caters to blind
girls aged 7 to 19. The other was the Kingston School for
Disabled Boys . My small-scale project involved collaboration
with the world famous Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts
and Carroll School for the Blind to provide equipment.
The other project I have set up is the Basic Life Support
BLS and CPR project whereby teaching tools, BLS course equipment,
instructional DVDs mannequins, umbo bags were taken and
handed over to Dr. Nouman and his team. He has been educating
the local and far outreaching areas in basic cpr and life-support
techniques… I hope others will share in funding other
BLS teaching tools ..
One project that required extensive background work that
our APPNE President Drs. Naheed and Hassan Usmani, undertook
was the medical and dental student scholarship program.
Several students at the Ayub Medical and Dental College
lost their parents and earning members of their family and
would have dropped out because of the tuition expenses.
A scholarship fund was created through which the affected
students would have their tuition paid off for a duration
of 4 years. First 20 scholarships have already been given.
One very ambitious project that APPNE has undertaken is
that of reequipping the Ayub teaching hospital that was
ravaged by the earthquake. IMEC (International Medical Equipment
Collaborative) a non-profit organization collects unused
hospital supplies, equipment, X-ray machines, surgical tables
etc and donates them to developing countries. The only cost
they charge is the transportation expenses. Through the
help of local American groups and matching grants from Rotary
club, four departments at Ayub teaching hospital are being
completely renovated and refurbished. The total value of
this equipment is about a million dollars. The departments
that will benefit include OBGYN, pediatrics, emergency room
and critical care unit. Our first shipment is due in November
2006 Local Rotary clubs, Friendsforever.org are helping
in putting this shipment together.
APPNE’s mission and strivings have been inspired by
the words “Allah mere dil kay ander” - “God
is within my heart” – of Jawad Ahmad, famous
Pakistani singer. Marking the upcoming one year earthquake
anniversary Jawad flew in last month for a fundraiser for
APPNE and his own Taaleemforalltrust.
This amazing , multi-talented young man graciously decided
not to compete with APPNE donors and instead spoke humbly
and briefly about his own earthquake relief work for which
he has received the sitara-esar from the Pakistan Govt.
The physicians of Boston wish to acknowledge his emotional
APPNE achieved its financial support that evening; but it
was Jawad’s sincerity and unassuming charisma that
got the biggest donation - love, respect and national pride.
That September evening Jawad sang his heart out for the
earthquake survivors and zestful rescue groups and people
like Dr. Nouman Siddiqui and his team of unsung heroes.