UAE medics return from caring for Moroccan earthquake survivors

Aster Healthcare teams provided maternity care, treatment for diabetes and heart disease, and offered medical training to volunteers

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Medics volunteering in Morocco have returned to the UAE from a six-day mission after the country was hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake that claimed about 3,000 lives.

A doctor and five nurses from Aster DM Healthcare distributed community healthcare and medical training in some of the worst-hit parts of Marrakesh and surrounding areas.

They provided urgent maternity care and treatment for diabetes and heart disease and monitored the spread of viruses and respiratory diseases in densely populated temporary shelters.

Working under stress is my speciality. I know how to deal with these situations
Haitham Naeem, assistant chief nursing officer at Medcare

Doctors told The National that tremors were still being felt in mountainous areas in the region, two weeks since the disaster that has displaced 300,000 people.

Dr Maazuddin Mohammed, a general practitioner at the Aster Mobile Clinic in the UAE, said many people were still too afraid to return home due to the risk of aftershocks.

“We were on a medical camp on the third day, on top of the mountain, but we had to cut it short because there had been some mild aftershocks,” said Dr Mohammed.

“For most people, even if the houses were not razed – even if the houses were safe – they are still living in fear.”

The doctor said many are without proper shelter, living in tents.

“They are worried there may be more earthquakes,” he added.

Remote villages

The Aster team, comprising healthcare volunteers from India, Jordan and Egypt, have been conducting basic healthcare screenings, delivering medical kits and urgently required medicine.

Work has been carried out in partnership with the Association Jeunes d'Atlas Taroudant and Marocains Solidaires across remote villages in the Atlas Mountains.

Dr Mohammed said a major concern was that most of the villages where houses had been destroyed were isolated high on the mountains.

“There were a lot of old people there. We tagged along with local Moroccan doctors and went to those villages,” said Dr Mohammed, who usually operates a mobile health clinic in the UAE treating blue-collar workers.

“The day before we arrived, there was one delivery of a newborn baby.

“The mother wasn't producing milk, so she was giving [the baby] some local Moroccan tea. We stopped that and gave her the formula feed she needed.”

Morocco aftershock causes rescue workers to panic

Morocco aftershock causes rescue workers to panic

Mr Mohammed said the team also treated a woman, 80, with high blood pressure.

While food and shelter have been the priority, attention has since shifted to preventing the outbreak of disease.

The Aster volunteer project has delivered medication to villages and basic healthcare training has been given to improve access to care while Morocco's infrastructure recovers.

Special training

Haitham Naeem, a Jordanian assistant chief nursing officer from Medcare Hospitals and Clinics, delivered some of the training sessions.

His main target was to triage people who needed urgent care and then contact another clinic for patients in need of further treatment.

He said the language barrier was another one of the major challenges.

“People were disconnected from the healthcare community, and from the city, so we wanted to give some training to the volunteers,” he said.

Mr Naeem said 55 volunteers had asked for basic training in how to deliver first aid, while local nurses with basic experience were given more in-depth lessons in care.

Some were not doctors or nurses but volunteers on the ground with NGOs, he added.

“They are trying to volunteer from their heart but they don't understand medicine,” he said. “They don't understand how to do dressings, suturing [a technique to close wounds] or any of those things.”

Mr Naeem said they trained volunteers on the American Heart Association Pediatric Advanced Life Support, a course on how to respond to emergencies in infants and children.

“Volunteers now know how to diagnose and see if a patient or victim is alive or not, and how to activate the emergency response system,” he said.

“Working under stress is my speciality. I know how to deal with these situations.”

The Moroccan government has offered aid of Dh30,000 ($2,930) to every household affected by the earthquake, and Dh140,000 for homes completely destroyed.

Morocco has accepted limited foreign aid and focused more on domestic campaigns run by the government and local NGO initiatives.

It said the kingdom welcomes acts of solidarity by the international community but after conducting assessments, it only accepted aid from Spain, Qatar, the UK and the UAE.

“With the progress of intervention operations, the assessment of possible needs could evolve, which would make it possible to resort to offers of support presented by other friendly countries, according to the specific needs of each stage,” the Ministry of Defence said.

“The devastating earthquake in Morocco had a disastrous impact on so many people and their families, which would take years to recover,” Dr Azad Moopen, founder and managing director of Aster, told The National.

“Any support extended at this crucial stage is the least that can be done.”

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Updated: September 21, 2023, 2:00 AM