Abbottabad, a Hotspot for Medical Care

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The scenic valley town of Abbottabad will forever be tied inexorably to Osama bin Laden, at least in Westerners’ minds. But the ordinarily calm, quiet town has long had another claim to fame: it is a major center of medical training and health care in Pakistan.

By our count, the city of Abbottabad has about 121,000 residents (the entire Abottabad district comprises 881,000) and 21 hospitals and medical complexes — and that’s not counting the many private doctors clinics. “It’s a respectable middle-class area. The people who live there are doctors and different kinds of professionals,” a Pakistani student described the neighborhood to TIME.

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Before becoming known as bin Laden’s hideaway, Abbottabad was probably better recognized as the nucleus of emergency care during the devastating 2005 Kahsmir earthquake that killed 75,000 people. The town lay just 25 miles from the epicenter of the 7.6-magnitude quake; its world-class Ayub Teaching Hospital, Gilani Hospital Complex and two other hospitals were transformed into a vast, outdoor triage unit, which treated many of the estimated 70,000 survivors in the days following the temblor.

A video (in Urdu) provides a tour of Ayub’s facilities:

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A small sampling of Abbottabad’s other top medical centers: the Institute for Nuclear Medicine Oncology and Radiotherapy Hospital Complex (for cancer care), the Hira General and Teaching Hospital (for women’s health), the DHQ Teaching Hospital (for maternal and children’s health) and the Army Medical Center and CMH Abbottabad (for military service members).

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The extensive facilities serve the medical needs not only of Abottabad, but also of the numerous rural communities throughout the province, much of which lies in the foothills of the Himalayas where there is little access to medical care. According to Ayub’s materials [PDF], it trains 1,350 medical students each year; its alumni include 3,000 of Pakistan’s most highly regarded doctors (the total number of licensed physicians in Pakistan is 127,859, according to the World Health Organization) as well as many others who practice in other countries, including the U.S. and U.K.

It’s unknown whether bin Laden or his family availed themselves of the high-quality medical services in the town (the terrorist leader was said to have had kidney stones and an enlarged heart), but at least one health-care worker reported dropping off at the compound’s gate enough polio vaccine to inoculate 23 children.