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A tragic tale of Quetta’s trauma centre

Updated May 28, 2017

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The trauma centre of Sandeman Provincial Hospital was inaugurated 
by Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri last year.—Photo by 
Adnan Aftab
The trauma centre of Sandeman Provincial Hospital was inaugurated by Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri last year.—Photo by Adnan Aftab

QUETTA: The harried family of Mujeebullah Khan Tareen rushes him to the trauma centre of Sandeman Provincial Hospital (SPH), Quetta, situated on Jinnah Road. The 20-something had had an accident in Pishin district of Balochistan and sustained multiple injuries in head and chest.

A man at the entrance of the trauma centre stops Tareen’s elder brother and advises him to take the injured boy to the nearby private Doctors Hospital. The chances of him getting better are higher there, he says. Tareen’s family tends to agree.

That patients’ families would rather spend more money to see their loved ones get better treatment than have them languish at the SPH is not news to anyone.

Standing on Quetta’s Prince Road and clutching a bag of medicines, Imtiaz Baloch of Kharan district shares a similar story. “Our relatives recently met with into an accident. Two of them died on the spot, while the rest were brought to the trauma centre at the SPH.”

Last year in August, a suicide bomber attacked the Kasi Casualty Ward of the SPH killing 75 people, most of them lawyers. Instead of being treated at the SPH trauma centre, those injured in the blast were taken to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in Quetta Cantonment. The death toll mounted due to the delayed treatment.

You would be hard put to find a surgeon on duty on a regular day at the trauma centre and it is mostly junior doctors who perform duties there. One junior doctor sitting in the doctors’ room shares that surgeons are called in cases of emergency. “Like when we are stuck while treating a patient or in emergency situations [like a terrorist attack]...but they are always available on the phone.”

The head of the department, for example, Dr Jameel Ahmad, a surgeon, visits the hospital twice a week to do rounds.

A reliable source tells Dawn, “All surgeons at the trauma centre perform duties in private hospitals, because they are paid a handsome consultancy fees along with other privileges. Despite getting paid by the government, they are nowhere to be seen at the trauma centre, or in any of the departments at the Sandeman Provincial Hospital. There are no checks and balances, because they [most of them] have political backing.”

However, Dr Munir Ahmad Gichki, the resident medical officer (RMO) at the trauma centre, does not agree. Sitting in a lab of the trauma centre downstairs, the doctor says, “[We have] the whole set-up in our hands; expensive operations are done here regularly for free; the 55 per cent mortality rate of youngsters has decreased since the trauma centre [opened]; we have neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, medical officers, pharmacists, and general surgeons at the trauma centre available round-the-clock. We have a staff of 150 to 200 people.”

He insists that the hospital is not lacking staff, implements or medicines required to provide treatment facilities to patients, and adds that, “this is our duty...we provide every kind of health facilities to patients at the centre”.

In response to a question about the absence of senior staff members, he says, “Personally, I take notice of anyone who does not come [to work]; I have the right to write letters directly to the health secretary and other officials at the health department.”

Sandeman Provincial Hospital medical superintendent Dr Farid Ahmad Sumalani reiterates this line and insists that surgeons are available at all time at the hospital’s surgical department. This includes the head of the trauma centre. “In the last six months, since the trauma centre was inaugurated, patients who have been in accidents, shootings, and bomb blasts have also been brought to the centre from the interior of Balochistan.”

At the hospital’s cafeteria, one of the doctors points at an elegantly dressed man who appears to be in his late 50s. Dr Azeemullah Babar introduces himself as the head of the trauma centre and claims that he has been politically victimised and shunted away from the department.

Several doctors close to Dr Babar, however, clarify that he is no longer with the trauma centre. Dr Sumalani explains that Dr Babar had been appointed a surgeon at the Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Hospital in Marriabad.

“But he has been trying to return to the SPH trauma centre instead of performing his duties at the Benazir Bhutto Hospital.”

However, Dr Babar dismisses the clarification and insists, “Yes. I am still the focal person or director of the Trauma Centre.”

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2017