When one of the biggest government-operated hospitals runs out of medicine for the one million patients who visit every year, it is difficult to not be a little concerned.
The Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre (JPMC) in Karachi faces a host of problems at such a large scale and frequency that the dismal state of healthcare has ceased to be ‘news’ for the general public.
But in the midst of these challenges, there exist many helping hands who have been pumping money and other resources into the hospital to keep it functioning.
These largely hidden faces are the soul of JPMC — men and women who try to address the smallest, most basic needs, all the way to those who endeavour to take the hospital to new heights in the field of medicine and patient care.
Whether the donations are made out of goodwill or given out of gratitude after successful treatment, the donors breathe life into the institute.
A steady stream of help
It is often claimed that Pakistan is one of the most generous nations when it comes to donations. Seemin Jamali, Head of the Emergency department at JPMC, believes this is indeed not an exaggeration.
“A young man came to us requesting to treat his ailing father inside the ambulance who was in extreme pain. Carrying him inside the hospital would have added to his agony so we sent a doctor to treat him in the ambulance only,” says Dr Seemin Jamali, smiling as she recounts the memory of what happened later.
“The next day that young lad donated 20,000 drips to the emergency ward only for this small favour.”
Dr Seemin says this is but one of countless instances where patients have donated generously after getting treated at the hospital. It is hard to keep track of this generosity; the names and faces are forgotten with time but the unending help is a reminder that something is being done right, she says.
“There are people who come back to help the hospital in some way or the other. Two A'level students died in a car crash last year — the girl was brought dead to the hospital but the boy was in a critical condition. We did what we could to save him but he too succumbed to his wounds. This year, his mother came to the hospital during the heat wave and contributed wheelchairs for the patients and thanked us for taking care of her boy while he was admitted,” says Dr Seemin.
There are others who have selflessly contributed to the hospital and also made it a point to follow up personally to identify any other deficiencies.
“I contributed a dialysis machine because it was needed; then I paid a visit to see if it was duly utilised. I found out they needed a freezer, so I mentioned it to a friend and she arranged for it,” says one contributing fashion designer. “There is always congestion; they need more equipment, human resources all the time. There is no space issue to accommodate instruments; they need technicians to run it...Jinnah Hospital cannot provide proper salaries to technicians; there was no one to run the entire dialysis machine. I hired one technician and offered to give him a salary till the government took over.”
Apart from these gestures of help, there are other registered and unregistered oragnisations in Karachi which have become the backbone of the hospital.
The ‘modern’ Jinnah hospital
The Patients Aid Foundation (PAF), a non-government organisation, has been working for the welfare of Jinnah hospital since 1991. Its members comprise businessmen and philanthropists — most of whom prefer to remain anonymous, but have changed the face of the hospital in its entirety.
They are the people who have made it possible for Pakistan to be the only country in the world to offer robotic cut technology, popularly known as CyberKnife, for the treatment of cancer free of charge.
Through this machine, early-stage cancer can be cured within just two hours of radiation without any pain or side effects.
There are only 240 such robots available in the entire world, and Pakistan is the only one providing free treatment which globally costs patients anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000.
“Russia, Nigeria are some of the countries that do not have this technology and we have had patients coming in from abroad to Pakistan for treatment. But most of our patients come from all over the country referred by doctors to this facility,” says Dr Tariq Mehmood, Head of Radiology and CyberKnife.
The PAF has worked tirelessly for its maintenance and up gradation. Installed in 2012, the robot has been upgraded with new backup machinery installed to improve efficiency. “Previously four patients could be given treatment with CyberKnife everyday but after being upgraded, eight to nine patients can be cured of tumours.”
Out of the hundreds of patients that have been cured so far through CyberKnife technology, five per cent of the patients contribute to the hospital in the form of donations. “At times the affluent patients end up donating far more than their treatment had cost. We never ask the patients for any money...those who contribute do so of their own free will,” says Dr Tariq.
‘Big plans ahead’
PAF’s footprints can be found everywhere in the hospital, turning dust into gold.
There is a long list of achievements to their credit having served for over two decades. Apart from providing beds, medical equipment, and running a blood bank, one of the most prominent of PAF’s achievements is present in the radiology department.
What was once a deserted ground littered with garbage and sewerage problems is now a two-storey building boasting a 24/7 CT scan facility, MRI, X-rays and a floor dedicated to ultrasound.
“The newest addition is a mammography machine for breast cancer patients — we have just installed it and not many know about it so we currently have only three to four patients coming in for that,” says Dr Tariq.
Critically, most of these facilities are provided with little or no cost to the patient. “The CT scan and MRI have a meager charge but if patients cannot afford that too, we cover up the expense through the Zakat fund,” adds the doctor.
It is almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the structure, cleanliness and the amount of work in the pipeline at the hospital.
“Why do you think people donate to Edhi, or The Citizen’s Foundation? It is because they are reliable and people trust them. Similarly, PAF has made a name for itself and people contribute because they know their money will be spent in the right way,” says Agha Mehmood, General Manager of PAF.
To overcome shortage of medicines, Mr Agha talks about their deal with a small store named HOPE across the road from JPMC. “The patients can buy medicines from this store and the requisition at the end of the month is paid by PAF.”
“The owner of this store is known for his honesty and people at times directly give him thousands of rupees to give free medicines to whoever needs it.”