01 Jan 16 28 Nov 16

Pakistan: Highs and lows in Balochistan

Dr Mary Flanagan is working as a flying paediatrician with MSF in Balochistan, Pakistan. Here she writes about her experience working with malnourished children.

I’ve been in Pakistan for three months now working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) as a flying paediatrician. I cover nurseries, paediatric wards and inpatient feeding centres in 2 projects in the largest and most impoverished Pakistani state, Balochistan.

“Well 3 months into the job, how are you doing?” A straight forward question but the answer brings a mixed response of highs and lows.

There have been sad moments: the pain on a mother’s face when I told her that her child was not going to make it. Humbling moments: seeing a woman cry for a job to support her family; and some frustratingly heart-breaking moments: realising childhood death is part of everyday life here. 

Thankfully however there have been many uplifting and cheerful experiences.

Learning the language

This month as I settle in, I’ve had the joy of hearing children laugh and seeing them smile when they meet me on the street and hear my attempt to greet them with “As-salāmu ʿalaykumā”.

I’m enjoying the local food, although if you think the Irish eat too many potatoes, you haven’t seen anything yet. Every meal here must include rice, potatoes and bread, so I am trying to reduce my bread intake before I turn into a chapatti; a type of unleavened flatbread.

There’s great comradery of having fellow Irish volunteers in the mission, my colleagues Dr Aisling & Dr Sean. No-one quite understands the Irish wit and sarcasm to the same level.

Also, getting to know some kind, caring, fun and at times little eccentric national and expatriate colleagues has been very enjoyable.

New routines 

Other things that have taken some time to get used to are things like remembering to wait until the afternoon to speak to the Italians or at least until after they’ve had coffee, jesting with the British, losing scrabble-based games to those for whom English is not their first language, laughing with the Kenyans and mock-surprise on hearing that it is possible to have tea without sugar with the Pakistanis!

I am continually amazed at the creativeness and artistic work of many Baloch women when I see their hand-stitched & embroidered clothes that their children wear.

Children returning to health

Seeing children get better is always special. There is a very high mortality rate here and often you feel helpless when you see the critical state some children arrive to the hospital in.

So it sounds clichéd but it feels pretty amazing when some of the really sick ones pull through and get discharged home.

So yes it is tough at times, but every child deserves a happy and healthy childhood and through the work of MSF in these projects and with such dedicated and positive colleagues I can say that we’re helping to make this happen.

Read more about the work of MSF in Pakistan