THE fact that a newborn at a Rawalpindi hospital was bitten by a rat earlier this week is a horrifying, extreme example of the lack of hygiene in the nation’s health facilities. It is perhaps sheer luck that the baby escaped serious harm. Officialdom’s response to the scary incident has been predictable: inquiry committees have been formed while senior officials at the hospital concerned have been suspended. Rodents and cats are said to be frequently spotted at the facility, yet it is not the only one in the country where animals and pests compromise the high sanitary standards that are expected at a hospital. With hygiene standards at public hospitals in all provincial capitals extremely poor, one can only imagine the state of rural health units. While the condition of private hospitals is relatively better, it is public health facilities which cater to most patients.

A shortage of funds for maintenance and upkeep is one of the reasons behind the unhygienic conditions. Overcrowding in public facilities is another concern, as there are not enough beds to cater to the number of patients, especially in gynaecology wards. Some quarters also disagree with outsourcing sanitation duties to contractors as the latter reportedly cut corners. Unfortunately, those tasked with keeping hospitals clean are paid a pittance, work long hours and hardly receive any training; there is little to motivate them into doing their job diligently. Health authorities in all provinces need to rethink their approach towards maintaining sanitary standards. The environment within and outside hospitals must be free of filth as well as animals. For this, sanitary staff must be motivated with higher salaries and better working conditions. In fact, all stakeholders, including doctors, nurses and hospital administrations should look upon it as a challenge that can only be met with a collective effort.

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