Bridging the gap: How mobile health clinics provide a lifeline for flood-hit communities in Pakistan

Nurse Noor checks blood pressure of a patient in the mobile health unit

Nurse Noor checks the blood pressure of a patient at a mobile health clinic in Pakistan, funded by DEC charity CAFOD. Photo: Insiya Syed/DEC

Even before the flooding, many rural communities in Pakistan had trouble accessing basic healthcare services, particularly those living in remote areas who may not be able to pay for medicine. But the floods have made access even harder while simultaneously causing a spike in malaria and waterborne diseases such as cholera.

The floods damaged many healthcare facilities across the country, and roads that people used to get to them. Sources of clean drinking water such as boreholes and water pumps were also damaged or destroyed in the worst hit areas, forcing people to drink dirty water where diseases such like cholera, typhoid and hepatitis thrive.

Stagnant flood water, Sindh, Novemeber 2022

The extent of stagnant flood water in Sindh, Pakistan, in November 2022.

Large areas of stagnant water also provided a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitos. Children have also developed skin conditions due to being exposed to the dirty water.

To help people in remote areas access treatment, DEC charities have established mobile health clinics headed up by local medical professionals. Teams go out in vans stocked with essential medicines and equipment, targeting areas where people don’t have access to medical support, providing on-the-spot help. The clinics play a significant role in bridging the gap between people who live in remote, rural areas and essential medical care.

Senior Medical Technician, Alam Sher Khan, outside a medical camp for locals affected by the floods in Sindh, Pakistan

Senior Medical Technician, Alam Sher Khan, outside a medical camp organised by DEC charity Concern Worldwide and its local partners, in Sindh, Pakistan. Photo: Khaula Jamil/DEC

Alam Sher Khan is a medical worker who since the floods has been providing free healthcare to hard-to-reach communities through a mobile health facility backed by DEC charity Concern Worldwide.

He and his team of medical professionals go out in their van to provide support, identifying areas in need through a network of local community leaders.

“We try to help people by going where medicines are not reaching,” he says.

“In these communities, they are unable to get food and clean drinking water. We take all the medicines with us and give people immediate treatment. We have our mobile van to reach them and provide them with medicines and drinking water.”

Concern Worldwide, working with its local partners, were able to provide free outpatient care, medicines, antenatal and postnatal services and nutrition screenings all from the mobile health facilities.

Women and children queue outside of a Mobile Health Clinic funded by DEC charity CAFOD in Sindh, Pakistan on 20th September 2022.

Women and children queue outside a mobile health clinic truck funded by DEC charity CAFOD in Sindh, Pakistan. Photo: Khaula Jamil/DEC

Dr Anilla has been working for Community World Service, a local partner of CAFOD, for two years and says that since the floods hit, contaminated water has been a huge problem.

After the floods hit, her team were able to move around different rural areas, providing medical services to people on the ground where they are.

“We started a mobile health unit due to the flooding and incessant rain,” she says. “Most of our patients face problems due to contaminated water in the area. Clean water is not available, so people are suffering from diarrhoea and dysentery.”

Her facility was able to provide on the spot consultations and treatment. “Pregnant women also face significant challenges in these conditions,” Dr Anilla adds. “We try to provide them with check-ups, blood tests and basic medicines and supplements such as multivitamins.”

Dr. Anila, writes a prescription for a patient inside a mobile health unit

Dr Anilla writes a prescription for a patient inside a mobile health unit in Pakistan. Photo: Insiya Syed/DEC

The UN estimated that around 650,000 women in need of maternal care were affected by the floods. Salma is one of the many women who received postnatal support through CAFOD’s mobile health unit. Her first baby was born during the floods and she was worried that he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed because she didn’t have enough to eat.

“As a newborn he depends on me for his nutritional needs,” she explained. “My husband is a labourer but is currently jobless due to the floods.”

The needs in Pakistan are still great, with families families struggling to meet their basic needs and access essential services.

Thanks to donations to the DEC Pakistan Floods Appeal, 35 health posts or mobile clinics were established in the first six months of the response, and more than 158,000 people have now received healthcare support.