Dr Tufail Muhammed
Dr. Tufail Mohammad is the Director of the Regional Training Institute (RTI), Peshawar. RTI is a government body responsible for the training of the staff of the Population Welfare and Health Departments on reproductive health and family planning. Dr Tufail Mohammed became a Leadership Fellow when he attended the International Family Planning Leadership Program (IFPLP) of the International Health Programs (IHP). Dr Tufail has subsequently been an active fellow in the Leadership Fellows network as well as other networks, and is well known and respected amongst his colleagues. Recently he has taken a lead in trying to develop disaster response strategies in partnership with other Leaders as well as with the Pakistan Reproductive Health Network. In recognition of his outstanding leadership in supporting displaced women and communities, he was presented with the meritorious services awards by the President (2008) and Prime Minister of Pakistan (2010).
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in North Western Pakistan, has had a history of being disaster prone. This spectacularly beautiful mountainous region creates rugged living conditions during the best of times. Historically, this region has been on the nexus of geopolitical volatility. Alexander the Great invaded the region and the Greeks are said to have left their genetic mark on the features of the people. When the British colonized India, they endlessly struggled to subjugate the fiercely independent tribes of the mountain.
In the last 25 years this region has faced three major disasters.
- The Afghan refugee crisis dates back more than 33 years. Since 1978, as many as a third of Afghanistan's 26 million inhabitants had been forced to flee their homes, as a result of Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. The US and other countries were supporting the Islamist resistance movement known as the Mujahideen in their struggle against the Soviet-led government. During this time a lot of aid was given to the refugee camps in what was one of the largest refugee movements known to history.
- In October 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake devastated the region. An estimated 79,000 people died, and many more were injured and lost their homes. The infrastructure of the region collapsed. The region still has not recovered from this disaster.
- In July 2009, in efforts to route out Taliban militants from the Swat Valley, the Pakistan army requested the civilian population to move out of their homes to safety, and to clear the way for military action. Overnight almost 2 million people were displaced from their homes, often leaving with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Despite the military operations being over, some people still have not moved back, fearing for their security.
Dr Tufail Muhammed is the Director of the Regional Training Institute in Peshawar. RTI is responsible for providing technical training to service providers of the Population Welfare Department, and Health Department of the Government of Pakistan. This training includes various aspects of reproductive health, as well as family planning. Dr Tufail, a pediatrician by training, is also extremely active with civil society being one of the founding members of the Physicians Forum for Family Planning.
Based on the experience of the crises in his region Dr Tufail told me “when disasters occur, people’s first response is the survival of people, reproductive health usually takes a back seat. Reproductive health is a woman’s issue, and often women are silent, and there are many taboos around speaking about these issues”.
But reproductive health is connected to survival. Women who are pregnant suddenly lose all forms of care. Those who are close to delivery have nowhere to go for services. Not only are formal systems of care no longer there, but neither are the informal systems – the family set up, traditional birth attendants, etc. Women with gynecological concerns have no access to health care providers. Family planning is no longer available. Even something as basic as menstrual hygiene is difficult to care for. Dr Tufail says that when his female colleagues and students visited women in camps, they pleaded for someone to respond to these needs.
With the region prone to crisis, the local people have learned from their experience. “When the most recent crisis occurred we were prepared.” On hearing of the army action and the potential displacement of people, Dr Tufail and his colleagues advocated that the registration forms developed by the government for internally displaced people must have a section for registering pregnant women. This registration showed that 77,000 pregnant women had been displaced. The local services in the communities where they were displaced to could not meet the expanded needs of the population.
Dr Tufail and his team visited the women in the camps asking them what they needed. They responded by advocating for the provision of safe delivery kits and the provision of sanitary supplies to women. He gained the support of the Federal Minister of Population Welfare who supported his SOS call with resources. Dr Tufail also tapped into the Leadership Fellows network and built a partnership with a Leadership Fellow in the Punjab who immediately sent truckloads of supplies for him to distribute. Dr Tufail located several hospital infrastructures which were non functional. With support from his networks he was able to quickly open up ob-gyn wards and expand services.
“Along with physical needs, it was also crucial for us to address people’s psychological needs. We found reasons to celebrate. We all celebrated Eid together, the local district nazim hosted a grand wedding to which we invited 7000 people. We also held a group wedding to which our institute represented the girls’ side, and we made the girls’ clothes for them.”
In times of disaster, everything breaks down, formal and informal systems are destroyed. Societies can no longer function to support its citizens and their needs. In times like this leaders like Dr Tufail have to think fast, listen to the people and their needs, advocate to those who can help, and mobilize resources to respond to the needs.