Team PMB to the rescue

2019-03-27 06:01
Gift of the Givers’ Dr Imtiaz Sooliman embraces his daughter Rahmah (3) and grandson Zuhayr Mahomed (5) before flying out to flood-hit Mozambique with a 10-member medical team made up of Pietermaritzburg paramedics, general practitioners, a neurosurgeon and gynaecologists. PHOTO: ian carbutt

Gift of the Givers’ Dr Imtiaz Sooliman embraces his daughter Rahmah (3) and grandson Zuhayr Mahomed (5) before flying out to flood-hit Mozambique with a 10-member medical team made up of Pietermaritzburg paramedics, general practitioners, a neurosurgeon and gynaecologists. PHOTO: ian carbutt

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A 10-MEMBER medical team, carrying 400kg of medical supplies and other humanitarian aid, took off on a chartered aircraft from the Pietermaritzburg Airport on Monday to Cyclone Idai-ravaged Mozambique.

Ready to tackle the tough conditions in the flood-hit Mozambique, the team, consisting of Pietermaritzburg gynaecologists, an orthopedic surgeon, a casualty officer, a pediatrician, a paramedic, three general practitioners and a wound specialist, flew out to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport on Monday morning and at about 1 pm winged their way to Mozambican port city’s Beira Airport. The Beechcraft 1900c aircraft had two crew on board, including Pietermaritzburg-born pilot Wesley Vezasie (21).

The airlift is part of a massive drive by Pietermaritzburg-based humanitarian organisation Gift of the Givers to take much-needed nutritious food and medical supplies to tens of thousands of destitute and desperate people.

The organisation’s road team has set up a camp at Estaquina, near Bizo, and another medical team is working at the Gwaragwara Clinic.

Cyclone Idai lashed Beira with winds of up to 170km/h, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

According to reports, the death toll had risen to 657 in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe and nearly 120 000 are now housed in camps.

Clad in his trademark green shirt bearing his organisation’s logo, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers told The Witness that the team that left on Monday will complement a 35-member medical team already hard at work in Mozambique. Sooliman said in the beginning, they didn’t send a big medical team because there were several challenges getting to the affected remote parts of Mozambique.

Sooliman, perhaps with the hardest-working forefinger in the country, carried three cellphones and a huge power bank with him.

Before the aircraft landed at the Pietermaritzburg Airport, he was forever on the phone to staff in the organisation’s offices in Pietermaritzburg, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Mozambique and elsewhere around the world.

When he is not on the phone, he is texting. He sends dozens of messages a day on WhatsApp, using his right-hand index finger only, he quips.

Before departure, each member of the team is given a dose of A-lennon Doxycycline 100; Sooliman explained that it is an antibiotic that fights bacteria in the body as they will be working in a disease risk area.

“We were going to approach the disaster from the ground on boats and from the air with helicopters, unfortunately we had a problem with both of them,” he told The Witness.

He said sending a bigger medical component initially was not feasible, as they were dependent on helicopters to fly the teams to “islands” above the floodwaters and back.

The teams only had two helicopters, which limited water rescues.

Sooliman, the self-confessed “disaster tourist”, said while medical teams on the ground tried to travel by road to the town of Vilanculos, the trip was made all the more difficult because roads have been damaged.

Medical supplies, blankets and food were dropped around Beira, and approximately 250 patients were treated on an “island” in Beira. Sooliman said the rescuers in boats “were determined” to get to stricken residents. In Bizo, 2 000 people have already been rescued by boats with help from local farmers.

Rescuers also came to the aid of 6 000 people out in the open without food, medical supplies or blankets in Estaquina, 20km west of Bizo.

To help with the transport, at the weekend, two hired helicopters flew from Virginia Airport in Durban, with urgent supplies.

“They will take supplies to different people and also to swap personnel. Those guys in the water are getting exhausted taking people out. To give them a break, we take them out of the water to the airport and take the airport team to the water,” Sooliman said.

He said the scale of the Cyclone Idai had been “too huge”.

“A lot of people have fractures and injured body parts. One lady had a building fall on her. There are various types of trauma injuries and waterborne infections and emotionally, the people are very affected. They have lost everything,” he said.

He added that while there have been challenges, the rescue teams were getting fulfilment. “They can see the joy they are bringing to the people on the other side. They are saving lives.”

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