In 2005, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck Kashmir in Pakistan, killing approximately 90,000 people and leaving 3.5 million more homeless. To this day, it is still considered the deadliest earthquake to have hit not just Pakistan, but all of South Asia.
At the time, Dr. Meesha Iqbal was a medical student in Pakistan. She witnessed the rebuilding of hospitals and healthcare systems in the aftermath of the quake. Her father led the rescue teams and the military hospital of the area as the commanding officer. Throughout the chaos she came to an important realization: while the medical professionals might be prepared for disaster, the system itself was not.
A Life of Experience
Dr. Iqbal comes from a family of doctors. She herself started her journey as a physician attending King Edward Medical University in Pakistan. During an internship, where she helped bomb blast victims in an emergency department at a hospital, she received confirmation that the healthcare systems in Pakistan were not prepared for disasters. The hospital was on constant red alert, and the professionals were struggling to keep up with the demand.
Shortly thereafter, she left the clinical field, deciding that she needed to help more than just a few thousand people during her life. She entered the realm of public health and started her training by completing a 5-year postgraduate fellowship degree in Public Health from Aga Khan University, Pakistan.
She moved to the United States once she finished her degree, and has been in Idaho for the past year and a half. She is currently working on a Masters in Public Health at Idaho State University, while also working as a graduate teaching assistant and research associate with the Department of Community and Public Health.
Her background and experiences have inspired her to commit to fixing healthcare systems, a task she believes will affect the lives of millions for the better. Even now, while she continues to study and learn new skills, she operates as an external public health consultant with the Aga Khan University in Pakistan in collaboration with the World Health Organization.
The Acute Disaster Response Workshop
In order to help others here, Dr. Meesha Iqbal has teamed up with Continuing Education and Workforce Training (CEWT), to host a workshop centered around helping individuals and families be prepared for potential disasters.
For her, the civilians in a disaster are really the first-responders. Getting them prepared and able to assist themselves and their loved ones in a crisis is the first step in minimizing damage and loss of life.
The workshop is for the students of ISU and the health care professionals working in Pocatello or the surrounding areas. It will “help the audience relate knowledge of disasters, be well-prepared at the individual/ family level for potential future disasters, carry out the response and triage initiative, and be given hands-on experience which will help emulate real time scenarios.”
It will be on August 24th from 8am-3pm at the Disaster Response Complex (previously known as the Armory Building) located at 1257 S. 2nd Ave. in Pocatello. You can register here for it.
A Personal Mission
Dr. Iqbal has always looked at the big picture. When the earthquake hit Pakistan she noticed no one was looking at the larger scale. The healthcare system wasn’t capable of responding well to the disaster nor any other. It wasn’t that no one noticed this, rather, they had no idea how to go about fixing it.
So she became determined to learn how.
All of her education both in Pakistan and here in the US has been centered around understanding healthcare systems and how to fix the problems they have in responding to disaster situations.
Her area of expertise, public health, has long argued for preparedness in disasters, but very few listened. When Covid-19 hit, it became clear that it wasn’t only developing countries whose systems needed reworking; even the United States fell woefully short in responding to the pandemic. In fact, for her thesis, Dr. Iqbal conducted surveys and research looking at the residents of Idaho Falls and the surrounding 50 miles to see how prepared they were for disasters/pandemics.
Her findings? 35-40% of people in our area are not prepared. That is not an insignificant amount. In response to this finding, she determined, “If the people are not prepared, then someone needs to prepare them.”
To increase awareness of the importance of solid planning in disaster preparations, Dr. Meesha Iqbal plans on expanding this workshop in the future. She also plans on learning as much as possible in the years to come, so she can help the people of Pakistan and other developing countries fix the problems with their healthcare systems.
Her mission is a large undertaking, but she feels ready to take on the challenge. In her own words, “I need to touch the lives of millions, not just a few thousand.”