IoS Appeal: The earthquake victims paralysed for life

The aftermath of the disaster in Pakistan will be felt for years to come as families struggle to cope
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The Independent Online

Her thin frame covered with a bloodied sheet, Zahida Hanif Shah lay motionless on a hospital bed as her sister-in-law fed her a pomegranate. "I'm like a dead body," said the 28-year-old quietly, her long black plait lying on the pillow. "I can only talk and nothing else." Not only has the Pakistan earthquake left Zahida quadraplegic, but she is also five months pregnant.

The mother of two from Bagh district of Kashmir remembered clearly the day when her world stopped. As the house started to rock at around 8.50am, she instinctively ran outside. Realising that her four-year-old daughter was still inside, she went back to rescue her, but the house collapsed. Her husband was also trapped. Her nine-year-old daughter was at school.

"I started to cry out for help," she said. "I heard horrible sounds and felt utterly hopeless. I had no idea what had happened to the rest of the family."

Around 12 hours later, relatives arrived and pulled them out. Zahida, who found she could no longer move her arms and legs, spent the night lying in the rain with no shelter. Three days later, when transport was eventually found, she was taken to the town of Bagh and then transferred to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad. Her injuries were so severe that nothing could be done to restore the use of her limbs.

"It would have been better if I had died," she said. Doctors had yet to tell her that she would probably have to undergo an abortion, as the drugs she would need could adversely affect the baby. "It will be a very hard decision for her," said Dr Khalid Mehmood, a resident physician, standing by her bed. "There is almost no chance of improvement."

Zahida is one of around 600 patients in the Islamabad and Rawalpindi area left quadraplegic as a result of the earthquake. She will later be transferred to a rehabilitation centre. Eventually, however, she will have to return home. Not, of course, that she has one.

Patients have spilt into the corridors of the hospital, where more earthquake victims have been treated than at any other. With a bed capacity of 1,000, staff have so far treated more than 7,000 patients and more than 275 operations a day have been taking place. Temporary hospitals have been set up in community centres and colleges, where patients are sent following surgery to free up beds for the injured who continue to arrive from areas that have just been reached.

Many of the victims will need long-term medical care, some for the rest of their lives. But of the 600 basic health centres in the affected area, only a third have survived.

Donations: What your money buys

ActionAid puts your money to work in days.

Cost of setting up a community centre - £450

Paramedic's salary for a month - £280

Training five com-munity health workers for a month - £130

Transport from Islamabad hospital to Muzafrabad - £30

Packet of antibiotics - £5

* Click HERE to donate.

* Click HERE for full appeal links.

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