PESHAWAR, Oct 22: When Afghan refugee Sehr Jan died in childbirth in a camp near Peshawar she became the latest victim not only of the rigours of labour but also of a ban prohibiting male doctors from treating female patients.

Shortly before Sehr’s death in the Jalozai camp earlier this month, 19-year-old Laila Jan gave birth to a stillborn baby in the same camp. The child was seen as another victim of the ban.

Sehr, 32, was the 10th mother to perish in childbirth and Laila’s baby the 53rd infant mortality since Aug 30 when the NWFP government banned male doctors and technicians from attending to female patients.

“The lives of Sehr and Laila’s baby could have been saved had the ban not been enforced,” Dr Shaheena Khan, who works for non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bedari, told AFP.

“I prescribed them ultrasound tests. They went to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar but the male doctors and technicians refused to attend them because of the ban,” she said.

She said the hospital had told them to go to Islamabad or other parts of the country, but neither was able to make the journey. “The ban took Sehr’s and Laila’s son’s life,” she said.

Laila also said the ban was responsible for her child’s death.

“We thought the MMA would work to improve the plight of Afghan refugees. But they have proved to be even worse and only two steps ahead of Afghan Taliban in terms of oppressing women,” she said.

MMA’s spokesman Riaz Durrani denied that such a ban had been imposed, and provincial health minister Inayatullah Khan also disputed its existence, but health ministry and hospital officials insisted the ruling was in place.

“We have instructed all hospitals, nursing homes, and laboratories that male technicians must not conduct the ECG and ultrasound of females. Only the female technicians can do it,” an official of the health department said speaking on condition of anonymity.

Marina Matin of Revolutionary Women Association of Afghanistan, another NGO, also decried the ban.

“The ban effectively excludes all women from undergoing some crucial medical examinations as the province has only one female ECG technician and none trained in ultrasound. There used to be one but she has left the country for good,” she said.

A recent study on mother-child mortality by a sociologist at Peshawar University linked the ban to more than 100 mother-mortality and over 250 child-mortality cases.

Justifying such a prohibition, MMA’s provincial general secretary Maulana Gul Naseeb Khan said the ruling was in line with Islamic teaching.

“We think, men could derive sexual ecstasy from women’s bodies while conducting ECG or ultrasound. Similarly, some women could lure the men under the ECG or ultrasound cover.

“In both cases, perversion could prevail,” he said.

A doctor at the Lady Reading hospital, pointing to dismal health facilities in the deeply conservative province, said if doctors were compelled to follow the instructions, women patients would die on operation tables.

“There is no female anesthesia technician, operation theatre and dispenser in the NWFP. Even if female doctors operate women patients, assistance of male staff is indispensable especially during operations,” said gynaecologist Farkhanda Mehmood.

According to government surveys only 35 per cent women in Pakistan receive postnatal checks from a doctor. The Economic Survey of Pakistan estimates around 30,000 women die in Pakistan each year due to pregnancy related causes. —AFP

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