President pays surprise visit to NICH, ‘pained’ by state of affairs

Updated January 21, 2020

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The president talks to patients and attendants at the hospital on Monday.—PPI
The president talks to patients and attendants at the hospital on Monday.—PPI

KARACHI: President Dr Arif Alvi on Monday vowed to discuss the expansion plan of the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) with Prime Minister Imran Khan which, he said, was badly needed while more such facilities should be set up in Sindh.

Talking to reporters after a surprise visit to the NICH, President Alvi expressed disappointment over the state of healthcare affairs in the province and called his stroll around the largest health facility for children in the province “a painful experience.”

“I decided to pay surprise visit for different reasons,” he said. “It gives you real picture and allowed interaction with those people who are actually going through different experiences at the hospital. No one was aware about my visit which helped me look into the real state of affairs. The director Dr Jamal Raza gave me detailed briefing and apprised me of several issues. But the most painful experience was to see five children being treated [on] one bed. This is very unfortunate.”

He said that the NICH badly needed expansion and for that matter several proposals were discussed with the hospital’s high-ups, who pointed out a few options along these lines. He referred to several open pieces of land around the NICH which were owned by the Pakistan Army, Pakistan Post and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). On a small piece of land, Dr Alvi believed, a huge vertical structure could lead to major relief for the people of Karachi and the rest of Sindh.

Says facility should be expanded to cater to more patients

“After the fire incident in NICH, I was actually suggested by Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit public sector hospitals which poor people [frequent] the most. So, several suggestions and opinions came up under our discussion. I would now take them to prime minister and we would look into them to come up with better solution,” he added.

He said the NICH and two other major hospitals — Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD) — were going through the transition period as they were going back to federal control from the provincial administration in line with the Supreme Court’s orders. The federal government, he said, needed to be cautious that poor patients should not suffer during this transition.

“We need more hospitals because poor people rely only on government hospitals because they can’t afford treatment at private facilities. Similarly, in private sector we need to make philanthropy more active. We being Muslims like to make philanthropic contributions and here in our country huge sums [come] in this account. We need to make it more active and more disciplined for larger interest of poor people.”

Fire incident

He also referred to the recent fire incident in NICH earlier this month and called it “unfortunate”. He said he was personally following the inquiry of the deadly episode which killed a newborn baby after the blaze broke out in an incubator of the health facility. A four-member inquiry committee set up by the Sindh health department saw poor response from the staff which also raised a number of questions after visiting the place of the incident and meeting the victim’s family and related staff.

“I personally watched [CCTV camera’s] tape which showed that the fire died out after few minutes but it claimed a life, which cannot be brought back. So the officials have briefed me that there were some flaws in the design of the incubators which led to this situation. It’s quite unfortunate and I hope that the measures would be taken immediately so that doesn’t happen again,” added President Dr Alvi.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2020