The Attabad Lake was formed due to a catastrophic landslide in January 2010 in district Hunza-Nagar of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), home to some of the highest mountains of the world. The massive landslide led to a blockage of the Hunza River resulting in the formation of a lake, with huge consequences for the local population, including inundation of the Karakorum Highway which resulted in a complete loss of ground access. To address the plight of the affected population, including that of child-bearing women, the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan requested USAID Pakistan to provide two high-speed boat ambulances for the 20,000 populated communities residing around the newly formed lake. The objective was to reduce delays in seeking antenatal, natal and postnatal medical and/or surgical care for women, and the community in general, by providing timely and safe transportation.
The USAID considered the request and provided two high-speed boat ambulances, which were made functional recently. The Chief Minister, GB (Syed Mehdi Shah) inaugurated the launching of boat ambulances and highly praised the support extended by USAID | DELIVER PROJECT. Successful implementation of humanitarian project and provision of boat ambulances has also been well received by the local population. Key achievements from the presence of ambulance boats have been the timely evacuation of women seeking antenatal, natal and post-natal medical care and/ or surgical procedures.
Availability of the ambulance boats has also prompted local residents to utilize this facility and seek medical attention without hesitation and delays. As of 31 December, 2014 a total of 59 patients were provided timely transportation and care for a range of serious medical conditions, e.g. mothers in complicated deliveries, heart attacks emergencies, critical injuries and road traffic accidents, appendicitis, paralysis, etc. These included 27 women, 26 men, and 6 children.
On account of the ongoing harsh winters, temperatures in the area drop to as low as -15 to -20 Celsius with strong winds and freezing of the Attabad Lake, where manual boats cannot operate on the surface of frozen water, the Chief Secretary, GB has allowed to deploy one of the two boats, on a temporary basis from December 2014 – Mar 2015, to transport the general public, along with patients, especially older citizens, children and women from one end of the lake to the other. The Deputy Commissioner and Health and Population Department are looking after these operations. This has alleviated the sufferings of the stranded population who have no other safe option except the boat to cross the lake and go downstream. From 20-31 December 2014 only, a total of 673 members of affected communities along with a number of patients were transported by the boat to safe locations.
The provision of this logistics package and its impact on maternal and neonatal health has been another contribution to the larger objective of the USAID Maternal and Child Health program, and has been applauded by the Government of Gilgit Baltistan and its affected communities. And through its role in improving the logistic solutions for health across Pakistan, it has strengthened the ties between the two countries.