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Medical malfeasance

April 23, 2019

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THE loss of a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, and that grief is compounded by the knowledge that their death was utterly avoidable. Yesterday, nine-month-old Nashwa succumbed to the health complications she faced after allegedly being incorrectly administered medication at a private hospital in Karachi earlier this month. Across Pakistan, thousands of people like her parents put their loved ones’ lives in the hands of doctors and hospitals every day, hoping to receive expert care and treatment. Yet time and again, for this basic expectation, they are made to suffer the horrific, often tragic, consequences of medical malpractice, failure to follow protocols, gross negligence and blatant greed. To err is human, and healthcare providers do make honest mistakes. But from overtreatment to misdiagnosis, from profit incentive in private facilities to mismanagement in public ones, bad-faith actors within the healthcare system have corrupted the ethical standards of their profession and shaken the public’s confidence in the quality of service.

That such malfeasance is seemingly proliferating is the result not only of negligent individuals, but the impunity afforded to them by the absence of a strong regulatory framework enforced by the medical community, hospital administrations, and the government. In Sindh, for example, consumer courts were only just established and are yet to be made fully functional — four years after the provincial consumer protection law was passed. The powers of the PMDC, meanwhile, are in disarray since the body was reconstituted under a controversial new ordinance. In the absence of strong oversight infrastructure to counter the deluge of malpractice and criminal cases, it falls on the press to apply pressure for medical practitioners to be held accountable when such cases come to light. But for every case that receives media coverage, there are dozens more that go undocumented. Standing in front of the cameras, Nashwa’s grief-stricken father pleaded for action. A healthcare system in shambles failed her. That must change.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019