Nepalese praise SA’s ‘green team’

2015-05-12 11:09
Dr Imtiaz Sooliman speaks to earthquake victims in Nepal.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman speaks to earthquake victims in Nepal. (Alet Pretoruis)

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THE South African team of medical experts and volunteers that responded to the Nepal earthquake gained the respect of the world, says Dr Imtiaz Sooliman.

Beaming with pride, Sooliman, head of local NGO Gift of the Givers, said their team ­became known to the Nepalese as the ‘Green South Africans’ due to their signature Gift of the Givers green shirts.

His was the only non-government ­organisation assisting the Nepalese after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck.

“It took us four hours to organise our departure and we left with the most highly specialised trauma team expecting the worst in Nepal. However, for the first time in our 23 years we couldn’t get to all the people because most areas were totally inaccessible,” he said.

“We expected much more trauma cases, but the most complicated challenge was getting to the people. It was a sad reality to take a decision to leave the mountain and return to whoever we could help at our base and the nearby villages.”

Sooliman said soldiers told them they were wasting their time trying to access the ­mountain area as the people there were either slightly wounded or dead, and there was no way of getting to them.

Although the team were not faced with many trauma cases, Sooliman said they ­happily assisted people with minor injuries and primary healthcare.

“It was so heartwarming seeing these ­doctors, who are so highly specialised in South Africa, perform minor check-ups on the people of Nepal, even sorting out a toothache and ­extracting wisdom teeth out in the open,” he said.

A Nepalese doctor told him that he had never imagined that “rich South African doctors” would be serving his country, coming to his hometown, sleeping on the floor and caring for his people the way they did.

Equipped with the services of South African search-and-rescue teams, surgeons, primary healthcare specialists, food, tents, trauma medicine and medical supplies, Gift of the Givers took over five hospitals in the area. The team of 80 conducted 102 major operations — with many complicated surgeries done by Pietermaritzburg doctors Pramod Gongal and Liven Meneses-Turino — and dealt with 700 patients in primary care and 100 in ward rounds.

“… All the major and complicated ­operations were handed over to us. We offered emotional support and provided healing through comfort. Whenever the people would see us, they would say the people in green have come,” said Sooliman.

Apart from providing medical care, Gift of the Givers also trained Nepalese doctors and nurses, and housed survivors of other countries.

“I would often receive calls from people all over the world, asking if we had found their family members. We didn’t only house South Africans in our base; many former South African doctors now practising around the world also stayed with us. We became the base for any lost South African,” said Sooliman.

Gift of the Givers also settled patients’ accounts at hospitals and bought food and tents for the Nepalese before leaving.

They distributed 825 food parcels to families in three districts and provided 4 000 tents to displaced families.

Sooliman, who said his team had worked extremely hard in difficult conditions, added that Nepal is approaching monsoon season and the quake-torn country was in desperate need of food and tents.

Donations for Nepal can be made into the following account:

International Projects

Standard Bank

Pietermaritzburg (Branch code 057525)

Gift of the Givers Foundation

Account number: 052278611

MISSION NEPAL IN NUMBERS

80:

S

ize of the team

10: Days spent helping the Nepalese

102:

Major operations performed

700: Patients treated in primary health care

100:

Patients treated in hospital wards

825: Food parcels distributed

4 000:

Tents distributed

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