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The Pakistan Log: Daily reports by Dr. Azhar Rafiq, NASA Research Partnership Center physician, on a humanitarian medical mission to Pakistan
01.23.06
 
Editor's note: Scientists at a NASA research partnership center are using space medical monitoring technology to help Pakistan earthquake victims. Two physicians from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical Informatics and Technology Application Consortium in Richmond will teach telemedicine techniques in Rawalpindi, Pakistan -- a region hard-hit by a quake that has left 3.5 million homeless. Dr. Azhar Rafiq, one of the doctors, will periodically provide his personal observations of the situation for the NASA Web. These observations may contain explicit descriptions of injuries and other medical conditions.

Dr. Azhar Rafiq of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical Informatics and Technology Application Consortium during 2005 tests of medical monitoring technology.  (Image credit: Virginia Commonwealth University) Image at left: Dr. Azhar Rafiq of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical Informatics and Technology Application Consortium during 2005 tests of medical monitoring technology. (Image credit: Virginia Commonwealth University)

Friday, Jan. 20

Dr. Ron Merrell and I left for Pakistan Wed., Jan. 18. Our two-day trip from Richmond, VA, took us through Kuwait City, where we saw hundreds of Hajjis (pilgrims) who had completed pilgrimages in Saudi Arabia and were returning home. Although most were old and sick, these people showed an unfailing commitment to completing their journey.

When we arrived in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, at 4 a.m. Friday, Jan. 20, we were met by Dr. Faisal Murad from Rawalpindi Medical College, who drove us to our hotel after being in the operating unit most of the night. The Pearl Continental Hotel --- our home for the week --- is heavily guarded, and cars are screened upon entrance to the compound. Inside, the rooms are spacious and comfortable, embellished with beautiful woodwork kept polished by laborers.

This morning, we joined a conference on surgical roles in disasters. Dr. Merrell gave a lecture on “Surgeons in Disaster Response,” citing lessons learned from other disasters including Hurricane Katrina, where NASA research proved helpful. Our Medical Informatics and Technology Application Consortium, MITAC, at Virginia Commonwealth University, is part of a NASA program that combines academic, government and industry resources in developing space technology that will also improve life on Earth. We design systems for managing medical information that can save lives in remote locations of any kind. We work with AMD Telemedicine, Inc. and Polycom, who donated $30,000 worth of medical equipment including electronic stethoscopes and medical cameras for our Pakistan mission.

My lecture today was on handheld technology designed to help first responders in mass casualty incidences like the Pakistan earthquake.

The medical teams at our conference will take this technology out to their villages to treat sick and injured people in the earthquake region.

Our discussions centered around the massive death toll and the 3.5 million people still homeless in this country. Local surgeons spoke about the extensive “crush” injuries incurred from falling concrete caused by the earthquake --- from multiple bone breaks in upper and lower limbs to broken spines. And, since many patients did not arrive at the hospital until at least three days later, these physicians faced significant challenges in repairing bones and replacing torn muscles and skin tissue.

We are anxious to see our technology make a difference, and we look forward to our first session tomorrow with the medical students here. Everyone is very kind, providing positive feedback. They clearly are eager to interact with us and have our support.

Dr. Azhar Rafiq is chief scientific officer for MITAC, one of 11 NASA Research Partnership Centers in the Space Partnership Development Program at Marshall Spaceflight Center, Huntsville, Alabama.