issue Spring 2023

Healing and Hope Amid the Rubble

By Sara Skoog and Dan Moran
An image provided by Dr. Malik show him providing medical care to patients affected by the February 2023 earthquake.

The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on Feb. 6 killed more than 50,000 people, and left millions of survivors in desperate need of medical care, food, housing and other forms of humanitarian assistance. This need continued to grow as intense aftershocks and deadly floods impacted the region during the subsequent days and weeks.

When disasters like this strike, emergency medicine and trauma physician Kaleem Malik, MD ’96, MS ’92, is one of the first to respond. Dr. Malik is director of medical disaster response for Humanity First USA, a nonprofit organization providing disaster relief in the United States and abroad.

Shortly after the earthquake hit, Dr. Malik and a medical team were on the ground in Turkey, providing care and comfort for earthquake survivors of all ages.

“For two weeks, we were tasked with operating two different clinics, seeing 150 to 200 patients a day,” Dr. Malik said. “You didn’t really have running water or any amenities, but we were still able to not only treat actual injuries from the earthquake itself but the ongoing medical needs that people might have — everything from diabetes, hypertension, cardiac care, OB/GYN including babies that need care, as well as the acute exacerbation of these chronic illnesses. That’s the reality — people need these services every day.”

Dr. Malik described the situation as “horrific,” with people living in “15 to 20 tent cities, each of which houses thousands of people” stretched across an area rivaling the distance between Chicago and St. Louis, or roughly 300 miles. Living conditions in these temporary shelters were particularly brutal due to the harsh winter weather at the time of the quake.

“I can tell you from living in the tent cities, there are overnight temperatures below 30 degrees,” he said. “It was freezing, and you had children living there and the elderly.”

Humanity First USA is working in collaboration with the United Nations and in cooperation with the Turkish Red Crescent, which is part of the International Red Cross and provides 90,000 meals per day to those affected by the quake. According to Dr. Malik, planning was underway in late March to start moving people from the tent cities into temporary structures, and to augment medical care with mobile clinics so that people don’t need to try and find transportation, or walk for miles, to get to a clinic.

Dr. Malik plans to return to Turkey this spring. He noted that while daily news coverage of the quake’s aftermath may have faded from view, the needs of those impacted by the disaster will continue indefinitely. He encourages those who are interested in helping to visit and learn more about the organization’s disaster relief efforts. 

“Anything that people can donate would be appreciated. It all goes to directly servicing those affected, and Humanity First is a proven and reliable steward to deliver this care.” 

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