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Rebuilt Health Clinic Heals a Community

June 18, 2004

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    A newly-rebuilt health clinic in Bam is offering citizens both community and comfort. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps Photo:

On December 26, 2003, a massive earthquake struck the city of Bam. Over 30,000 people were killed and the entire city and surrounding areas were leveled. Nearly the entire infrastructure of the region, with a population of 150,000, was destroyed or severely damaged. The health system was wiped out completely—122 clinics, hospitals and health houses were left in rubble. Over six months after the fatal quake, the rebuilding and recovery of the lives and infrastructure of the city continues.

In the village of Espikan, located in District 1 of Bam, there is still much work to do. Piles of rubble still cover the landscape, and tents and makeshift “homes” stand where houses stood before. But signs of a new future are clearly emerging from the wreckage. In the center of the community, the newly reconstructed Espikan Health House is nearing completion, bringing hope and a sense that things may one day be “normal” again to the people of this community.

“We went to the clinic for everything, from a band-aid when we cut ourselves or fell down, to big problems…like when my father became sick in the middle of the night and we didn’t know what to do,” says Atafe Ghadery, a twelve year old girl who grew up across the street from the health house. “We always knew that help was just across the street.”

Mercy Corps, with funding from Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD), is building a new health house in Espikan. Health houses are a fundamental part of the overall healthcare system in Iran and a cornerstone of every small town or village. These neighborhood clinics are responsible for providing primary family care to the communities, everything from annual check-ups and vaccinations, referrals to hospitals and emergency care. Without these neighborhood-based clinics, local residents would not have access to healthcare.

“Our village needs a health house. We are very far from the city center and don’t have a car to go there if there is a problem,” says Atafe.

The highly-trained healthcare practitioners who staff the health houses are typically a husband and wife team, the husband treats the male patients and the wife treats the females. They are important members of the community and considered “family-friends” in many cases.

Across the street from the construction of the new Espikan Health House, stands a group of tents. One of the tents belongs to Atafe and her family. Atafe has lived across the street from the health house her entire life. It has been a source of care when she or a family member was sick, and a sign of community and comfort. It has also shaped her dreams for the future.

“I saw doctors and nurses coming and going from the center since I was little,” says Atafe. “Now, I want to be like them. I want to be a doctor when I grow up and help people.”

The Espikan Health House that was destroyed was just a year old when the earthquake struck. However, due to the magnitude of the quake and the lack of earthquake-resistant construction materials and design, it was damaged beyond repair. Mercy Corps tore down the old health house and started from scratch to build a clinic with a new design and materials specifically selected to resist the devastating effects of any future earthquakes.

“This new health house is being constructed with galvanized steel, wood and special material to absorb shocks,” says Mercy Corps’ Health Project Engineer, Farshad Soltani.

Many of the local residents, including Atafe’s father, have taken a strong interest in the rebuilding efforts and are pleased with the design and quality of the Espikan Health House. Having seen their homes, schools and previous health house turn to rubble after the last quake, they are rightfully concerned about the safety of the new buildings.

“We want to make sure the workmanship and materials are good,” says Mr. Ghadery. “I go across the street almost everyday to check on the progress and work…when our health house is done it will be much better than before.”

Atafe is just eager to see the new health house reopened. Having lost her sister, several family members and her house in the earthquake, the clinic has become a symbol of healing and renewal for her.

“We still live in a tent and have many problems,” she says. “Some days I am so sad I cannot bear it. I wonder how we will ever survive this and come out the other side…but then I just open the tent door and look across the street and see the health house and I know that things will get better. It may take time, but it will get better.”