Chair, WPA Scientific Section on Women’s Mental Health
Director of Pakistan Institute of Psychotrauma (IPTP)
Dr. Unaiza Niaz had experience of handling Psycho-trauma in Pakistan Earthquake, 2005. Besides, she attended the first WPA-WHO Workshop on Mental Health and Psychosocial support in Areas Affected by Disasters and Conflicts in July 2009, in Geneva. She reports that this workshop has helped her in her work with the survivors of Pakistan floods.
The floods in Pakistan have resulted in shocking damage to 25% of the country. Of the nearly 20 million people affected by the floods in Pakistan, approximately 85% are women and children, and around 500,000 are pregnant women.
The majority of the deaths associated in these floods can be found within the most vulnerable members of society, namely women and children. The floods, caused by weeks of torrential rain have killed more than 1,700 people, according to an official toll. The UN officials report that this massive surge has exposed more than 20 million people to homelessness, malnutrition, and risks of epidemics and loss of livelihood. Besides, 3.5 million children are at high risk from deadly water-borne diseases. The situation is still highly critical for nine million people.
According to the UN, the Pakistan floods have affected more people than the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the floods “the worst natural disaster the United Nations has responded to in its 65-year history”.
With their homes and livestock destroyed, millions of families have had their lives turned upside down. Displaced families are camping on roadsides. Many lack shelter, food, and clean water. And psycho-trauma haunts most of the survivors in the relief camps.
The floods that inundated all the four provinces of Pakistan have left the most of the vulnerable population to enormous risks. The women children and the elderly are the worse affected. Particularly the pregnant mother and the newly born infants face high morbidity and mortality rates. Flood waters have damaged more than 200 hospitals and clinics, and in some areas, female doctors and other staff are not available to provide health services to pregnant women. With limited or no access to health facilities, women are at a greater risk of complications and death related to pregnancy and childbirth. It is vital that new mothers continue to breastfeed, in order to provide the safest nutrition to their babies. There is an urgent need for clean drinking water and extra nutritious food for mothers.
Mental Health Issues of Flood Survivors
Frustration, despondency and despair, following the catastrophe, has led to depression, anxiety and marked psychosomatic complaints. Women and children are the worst suffers. Almost 90% of the survivors need psycho-social support and counseling.
Pakistani Psychiatrists have launched psycho-trauma relief plan Provisions for psychosocial care, are fundamental to regenerate hope, renew trust, promote social cohesion and lessen hopelessness and desperation in the flood affected people. The plan aims at coordinating all the mental health initiatives for flood victims besides training of health personnel on flood relief duties, provision of mental health psychosocial support and rational use of psychotropic drugs. Ensuring availability of psychological first aid by trained personnel at all health service delivery points and in the community is crucial to prevent ensuing mental health issues.
Dr. Unaiza Niaz, with her team, has planned to launch an awareness campaign for community, media, and the policy-makers regarding the need for psychosocial care during all phases of floods relief efforts. Training Workshops and Courses are designed for the Mental Health Professionals and Primary Care Physicians, and Volunteers of the Flood Relief NGO’s.
Special Training Programs for gynecologists, Pediatricians, lady health visitors and midwives, are devised to address the mental health issues of women and children.
The enormity of the disaster, with the limited number of available trained psychiatrists in the flood affected areas, training of volunteers, medical students and paramedical staff with the counseling skills is absolutely vital.
Suggestions and support from the WPA Members is earnestly sought.