Einstein Doctors Volunteer to Treat Afghan Refugees
Einstein Healthcare Network physicians are among the early healthcare volunteers providing medical assistance and triage services to thousands of refugees from Afghanistan who are arriving at Philadelphia International Airport on their journey to new lives in the United States.
Many Einstein providers – including Shima Mehrizi, MD, Joy Freidman, MD, and Rohit Gulati, MD – have worked a shift at the airport and volunteered for more.
Dr. Gulati, Chief Medical Officer at Einstein Healthcare Network, has so far worked two overnight shifts at the airport, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., on Aug. 30 and Sept. 1, evaluating and treating Afghanis who were evacuated when the United States pulled out its troops.
They arrived in Philadelphia from interim stops in Germany, Iceland, US Air Force bases in the United States, and elsewhere.
Most of the passengers on the flights who need medical attention are children, Dr. Gulati says, “just because they’ve been on the road so long,” he says. “They’re fatigued, have upset stomachs, or a cough, things of that nature.”
Pediatrician Mayssa Abuali, MD, routinely works with the children of families who have immigrated to the US as director of Einstein’s New Arrivals Clinic. She is also among medical practitioners from all the major hospitals in Philadelphia who are volunteering.
The Afghanis receive COVID tests immediately upon arrival. Those who need medical attention because they feel sick or have a medical problem are guided to the medical teams. In addition to testing, they are vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19 at the airport.
“We evaluate and make a recommendation,” Dr. Gulati says. “They can be given over-the-counter treatments and in some cases prescription medications. Once it’s determined they’re OK, they are taken to buses and transferred to their next destination,” which are US Air Force or Army bases in the region.
A few of the Afghanis who needed hospitalization were sent by ambulance to the emergency room, and their families were permitted to go with them, he says. A 9-month-old infant did not survive the trip, according to news reports, and was pronounced dead upon landing in Philadelphia.
Matthew Behme, MD, associate director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program and director of the Einstein Center for Refugee Wellness, has assembled a list of three dozen Einstein Internal Medicine residents and fellows who all volunteered to help the arriving refugees. He will join them and is waiting for schedules to be arranged.
In addition, Ryan Overberger, DO, an attending physician from Einstein Emergency Medicine, is coordinating with the city Emergency Medical Services.
The Philadelphia airport has processed 3,654 evacuees from Afghanistan who arrived between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1, according to CBS News. It’s one of two airports participating in the evacuation effort, along with Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
“It was heartwarming,” Gulati says. “It felt like you were truly helping people who were coming to the US under very difficult circumstances, and there was satisfaction in knowing that things may be fine – at least for a brief period of time”