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GUJRAT/LAHORE: Police have arrested five people accused of tapping spinal fluid from at least 15 women in Hafizabad and Gujranwala after tricking them into believing that it was a requirement for participation in a government welfare project.

Hafizabad District Police Officer Dr Sardar Ghias Gull told Dawn that the five suspects, including one woman, had told their victims that they would help them acquire financial assistance through the prime minister’s dowry fund.

The suspects — identified as Nadeem, Muhammad Aslam, his wife Amna Bibi, and Irfan — would allegedly sell the fluid they had tapped to Sajid Masih, who worked as a sweeper at the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital’s kidney ward. The DPO said that Sajid had asked the suspects to provide him with spinal fluid from at least 15 women, which he would then sell abroad. They were promised a sum of Rs40,000 for their efforts.

DPO Ghias added that Nadeem, the prime suspect, would pretend to be an employee of the DHQ Hospital and use that as a cover to tap spinal fluid from women, mostly from financially distressed backgrounds. He said that Nadeem had confessed to conducting a spinal tap on more than 15 women.

Around 15 women were tricked into believing this was a requirement for participation in a government welfare project

He said that at least 16 victims of the horrendous scam had so far recorded their statements with the police regarding the extraction of fluid from their spinal cords. All of them said they had been medically examined at the Hafizabad DHQ Hospital.

Initial reports that emerged around the case claimed that the five-member gang had extracted bone marrow from the victims. However, the DPO clarified that the accused did not possess the equipment required to extract bone marrow.

He said the nature of the tapped fluid could only be ascertained after forensic analysis, adding that the police had sent samples of the fluid seized from the suspects to the Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory in Lahore.

Lahore Children’s Hospital Dean Prof Dr Masood Sadiq explained that bone marrow transplant was a sensitive procedure which required a germ-free environment and expertise.

The institute was the first public sector health facility in Punjab to have conducted the highly sensitive bone marrow transplant last year.

Talking to Dawn regarding the scam that surfaced in Hafizabad, he said both kinds of procedures — extraction of bone marrow and its transfusion — were not possible in the environment the suspects had worked in. Both the donors and recipients needed to undergo several tests to discover the type of bone marrow cells required, he added.

Sharing his expert opinion on the extraction of bone marrow, Prof Sadiq said it was a surgical procedure that was carried out at a designated sterilised operation theatre.

“Under anaesthesia, a needle is inserted into the patient’s rear pelvic bone where a large quantity of bone marrow is located,” he said, adding that bone marrow was extracted with a syringe.

DPO Ghias also confirmed that the suspects did not possess the kind of syringes required for such a procedure. He said that the police had seized a number of pictures of the victims, their ID cards, syringes and medicines from the suspects.

An FIR has been registered against the five-member gang at the Hafizabad city police station under Sections324 (attempt to murder), 420 (cheating and dishonesty), 170 (impersonating as a public servant), and 171 (wearing garb or carrying a token used by a public servant with fraudulent intent) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2018