Issues and Challenges

A COVID-19 Survivor’s Journey to Mission Area Darfur, Sudan

Pakistan Army is one of the finest, strongest and most professional military forces in the world. It holds the Pakistani flag high around the world in each and every aspect of professional competence. It is a matter of immense pleasure for me to be a part of Pakistan Armed Forces as an officer in the Armed Forces Nursing Services (AFNS).
I always take pride in wearing the Khaki, which for me, and many others like me, is a sign of prestige and pride. For us, glory and prestige is associated with professional competence and a strong sense of responsibility. Authority and responsibility always go hand in hand and the reason of success of every military personnel. 
Army has given me tremendous opportunities and multitude of exposures in the past 14 years. I had the opportunity to serve in Class-A Combined Military Hospitals (CMH), Force HQ Northern Area and Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology (AFIC). I am blessed with two daughters and they have made my family complete with their love and tenderness. They taught me that a successful woman is not just a competent professional who excels in her field but a woman who meticulously strikes a balance between home and work and thrives for excellence in both. 
In early January 2020, I received the gratifying news of my selection for UN Mission Darfur. I was honoured to have been chosen to represent my country at an international platform such as UNAMID. I was over the moon but this news also brought a lot of apprehensions for me. Being a mother, it was difficult to go so far away from my family. The fear of leaving my daughters behind at such tender ages, haunted and weakened my sense of determination. I would like to rephrase the saying: ‘Behind every successful man, there is always a woman’, to ‘Behind every successful woman is a strong family including supporting parents, siblings and spouse who show full confidence in her abilities’.
I had the pleasure of accompanying the Pakistan Field Hospital-12, which was to relieve the already deployed Pakistan Field Hospital-11 in Darfur, Sudan. Before deployment, which was scheduled in April, 2020, we had to report for various test formalities to prove our post-selection suitability for the mission. It is a routine procedural formality in Pakistan Army that you go through an annual medical examination, but you have to be declared fit by a special medical board for a UN Mission. Besides a tough medical examination, the selected person has to qualify Physical Efficiency Test (PET), which is indeed a very tough event to go through and qualify; it requires a lot of preparedness. After going through various formalities, we were prepared to relieve our fellows in Sudan, but Allah had a different plan for us. The COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world. 
Our deployment schedule was postponed due to the pandemic as well as cessation of International Flight Operations (IPOs). Being a health worker, I got attached with CMH Rawalpindi, as a result of emergent decision of the Medical Directorate (Med Dte). One can only feel the struggle when we go through a particular situation ourselves. Being a front-line responder during this  healthcare emergency made me and my family vulnerable. While performing duties at CMH, I tested positive for COVID-19. My first and foremost concern was my family; the faces of my daughters immediately flashed in my mind. I was caught in a limbo of emotions — fear, anxiety and stress all took me over but my courage did not falter for a second. As a dedicated wife and a concerned mother, I urged my family to undergo screening for COVID-19. I was anguished to hear that my husband and daughters also tested positive for COVID-19. It was a frightening moment. We were immediately admitted to Pakistan Emirates Military Hospital (PEMH) Rawalpindi, which was declared COVID hospital for military personnel. It was difficult to manage my family in the hospital. My husband’s business and the education of my children were adversely affected but above all, my family’s health was the top most concern. All this was psychologically unbearable. Moreover, the print, electronic and social media added fuel to the fire by propagating the news about contagiousness, morbidity and mortality of COVID-19. We remained in the hospital under close observation in accordance with the prescribed protocols for handling of COVID-19 patients and we were under complete isolation. It was indeed a special blessing of Allah Almighty that none of the other family members were symptomatic. After 25 days of immense psychological pressure and intense worry for my loved ones, we tested negative. 
My suspended personal and social life was restored to some extent. However, on the subject of the UN Mission, there was ambiguity. We kept on receiving schedules for deployment and whenever it was time to execute, it was either cancelled or postponed. My family kept worrying at first that after just having recovered from COVID-19, I was not in the best of health to be going to a foreign land. They thought that I should probably not think of going at all. For me this was indeed very tough and worrying. But for me, going through the whole experience brought a realization that the people I was going to help in Darfur were at a much worse disadvantage and they needed all the help they could get, especially during the pandemic. I kept trying to convince my family about this and eventually they were on board. Once it became clear that the mission was a go, my whole family stood behind me and did not let me think for a second that I would be leaving them in a state of anxiety about my health or wellbeing. In September 2020, advance party of my unit was deployed on mission to be followed by the main body.  
It is a beautiful day in Darfur and I am writing the memories about this nerve-racking journey. I am feeling privileged to be alive and healthy once again, serving my country and helping humanity to my full capabilities. When I look back, I realize that every hardship has made me stronger and has instilled in me a sense of pride and honour. Not only that, I have become a more competent professional yet a humbler human being with a more empathetic heart, which in my opinion is a basic need to serve humanity. This sense of responsibility will InshaAllah keep on increasing and I shall always strive to uphold the glory and honour of my profession and keep my country’s flag high. HH


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