How many more lives will we lose to a failed healthcare system?

Published March 14, 2015
The authorities should be ashamed of themselves for turning healthcare into a moneymaking venture. —Reuters
The authorities should be ashamed of themselves for turning healthcare into a moneymaking venture. —Reuters

If we compiled the number of people who die daily in Pakistan, I am fairly certain that more deaths would be found resulting from medical malpractice and inadequate treatment, than from natural causes, old age and even violence.

After all, health facilitation is no priority on the agenda of our rulers, who can easily fly abroad for their own treatment.

It was pure agony to follow the recent, tragic tale of Dr Shahid Nawaz at Pims. The late cardiologist took a bullet shot to the head, in an attack inside the hospital on February 14. Dr Shahid's friends and family were forced to shift him to Combined Military Hospital after learning about "the absence of even the most basic treatment protocols at Pims".

It appears from news reports that the CT Scanner and EEG machines at Pims were out of order.

This is an utterly horrific state of affair. Even though Dr Shahid's condition was beyond rescue from the moment he was attacked, his friends and family still chose to transfer him to another hospital just so they had "the satisfaction of knowing that all requisite tests have been duly performed in line with internationally-prescribed treatment protocols."

The above is just one of many unsettling hospital accounts out there.

Pharmacies often fail to provide life-saving drugs at the right time, or worse, supply expired ones. Quacks are plentiful and often the best bet to healthcare in remote villages and tribal areas. Over the years, people have lost all trust in the intentions of the state when it comes to the well-being of the common man.

Also read: Factory producing counterfeit medicine sealed

For a long time, one thought that all these ills applied more or less to the underprivileged only, who were unable to pay the hefty amounts needed for treatment in private hospitals in big cities, like Islamabad, Lahore or Karachi. But a recent personal experience proved me wrong, there are basic necessities which are unavailable to even affluent patients.

When my elder brother Ishaque Adil was admitted in a hospital with breathing problems, I was told the next day at noon that he would need a hospital bed with a ventilator on an urgent basis.

A friend and I embarked on a long search all over Karachi, driving some two hundred kilometres from one hospital to the other in desperation to find such a bed with a ventilator. We were turned away from all; each hospital had a waiting line for such patients.

Finally, after hours of search and delay of treatment, we found a bed in a hospital in Clifton. My brother's condition had drastically deteriorated by that time. We shifted him on Wednesday and immediately after his examination, the doctor told me his pneumonia had gotten worse and that he had ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome); that his infection may creep up to his heart and kidneys.

Also read: Pakistan ranks third for pneumonia deaths in the world

While Ishaque was on the ventilator, other complications arose, making a dialysis necessary on Friday night. It turned out that even this expensive posh hospital didn’t have the medication available for that, and again the family was sent out to hunt for medicine all over the city. More precious hours were lost until it was finally found at a pharmacy in North Nazimabad, late at 3am on Saturday morning.

My nephews rushed there to get the medicine, but arrived back at the hospital only to be told that the utility of the serum had expired and that it could not be administered. The pharmacy had sold expired medication!

All this goes on in this country on a daily basis, and nobody cares. The end of the torturous story is that my brother passed away at 11.40 am on Saturday, January 9, causing shock and trauma to a family who had been phoning and running around the whole time to provide the help needed – something that any healthcare system, by its very definition, should be able to provide without the help of family members.

A friend told me that even in a city like Bangalore, which has a population of around 8.5 million, a big hospital had around 200 beds with ventilators readily available. And Karachi, with its population of 20-30 million, did not have the bed to save my brother's life.

Why is healthcare not a priority for the government?

The authorities should be ashamed of themselves for turning healthcare into a moneymaking venture.

There used to be a day when hospitals all across from Karachi and Lahore to RawalPindi and Peshawar had their doors open for patients; there was no class or exclusive categorisation. Now we have a business-oriented money-hungry group of elites dominating the boards of private hospitals, where they demand hefty funds as deposit before even submitting an estimate for the treatment expenses – a novelty that was unheard of previously.

Take a look: National Health Insurance Scheme to cover 100 million Pakistanis

I remember in the late '80s, when Dr (Professor) S.M.K. Wasti, whom I knew quite well, told me at the time he was compiling the history of the Pakistan College of Physicians and Surgeons in Karachi, that he had started work on building a big hospital for the poor people of the country.

He said he had named the hospital – after a friend who had coined the name for this country – as Chaudhry Rehmat Ali Memorial Trust Hospital. This hospital, in the Lahore Township, had the OPD treatment facility and admitted patients on payment of the token money of four aanas (one quarter of a rupee in 1990 onwards).

Today, even people who pose as social welfare champions by building and running hospitals are charging hefty amounts for treatment. As long as healthcare, education and basic necessities of food and shelter are not taken care of by the state there is no reason to hope.


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