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KARACHI: Medical negligence is largely unaccountable in Pakistan. Its worst victims are children who, in many cases, suffer lifelong disability due to damage to their developing brain. The intensity of their health issues and the troubles their parents go through increase manifold due to poverty, lack of awareness and availability of few rehab facilities for such children.

Senior health professionals shared these views on Monday at the PMA House where a gathering was organised in honour of Dr Ruby Abbasi, a recipient of Tamgha-i-Imtiaz and the founder of Al Umeed Rehabilitation Centre set up in 1985, the first rehab for children with cerebral palsy in the country.

Recalling her services at Sobhraj Maternity Hospital, Dr Shershah Syed, senior obstetrician and the then medical superintendent in 1995, said Dr Abbasi was always concerned about the well-being of patients and performed her job with great honesty when she was appointed as in-charge of the hospital’s drug store.

“When I came to know that she is running a centre for children with cerebral palsy, I visited the place and was shocked to see that so many children were there. Often such cases result either due to doctors’ negligence or failure of obstetricians in making timely decisions at the time of delivery,” he said.

Birth complications and congenital issues, he said, were one of the many ways that babies could develop cerebral palsy, a disorder that affected muscle tone, movement, and motor skills (the ability to move in a coordinated and purposeful way). It could also cause intellectual impairment.

According to him, birth asphyxia, or oxygen deprivation, is one such way causing cerebral palsy. It is a serious medical condition that could lead to death if not treated immediately.

“Birth asphyxia is marked by oxygen loss and blood supply loss to the baby and generally occurs shortly before or during birth,” he said, adding that a number of birth asphyxia cases could have been prevented with proper medical measures.

Giving a few examples of how medical negligence could result into cerebral palsy, he said that it could occur if a physician failed to monitor infant distress.

Expressing her gratitude to the PMA for organising the meeting, Dr Abbasi said her personal tragedy made her very brave.

“I always went out with my son (who developed cerebral palsy after doctors mishandled his viral infection). It’s unfortunate to see that so many children in Pakistan suffer from lifelong physical and mental disabilities either due to doctors’ negligence or poor handling by untrained midwives at the time of delivery.”

Such physically and mentally challenged children, she pointed out, lost all opportunities for a meaningful existence and were often forced into beggary.

Dr Huriya Masudi acknowledged and appreciated Dr Abbasi’s dedication and hard work, especially her relationship with her colleagues.

“She used to be very harsh at mistakes. But, we all learned from her criticism,” she said.

Sharing her experiences, Dr Zahida Soomro said that as a junior doctor she was trained by Dr Abbasi who helped her become disciplined and a thorough professional.

Dr Nighat Shah recalled her experience of a high-risk pregnancy at Sobhraj Hospital and said that she found Dr Abbasi very kind, caring and considerate.

“She always showed concern about my pregnancy. I learned from her that how a good doctor should work especially during pregnancy, a difficult time for women in Pakistan, who need great support from their families as well as caregivers,” she said.

Earlier, Dr Ghafoor Shoro, the PMA secretary, briefed the audience about PMA’s events held earlier to recognise contribution of health professionals engaged in selfless services in society. They included Dr Aziz Abdullah, Dr Shamsunisa Ansari, Dr Habiba Hassan and Dr Tariq Mahmood.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2018