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Engulfed in flames

June 08, 2012


Nursery ward of Services Hospital– PPI

It is not surprising that one hardly paid attention to the fire that erupted at the Ferozsons bookstore in Lahore on May 30 with books worth Rs150 million being burnt and lost forever. After all, the nation is very busy struggling to make ends meet and the only issues that are given importance are the memogate, the drone strikes, the CJ’s son and Panetta’s remarks.

So where it might be easy to understand why the lost legacy of Ferozsons only saddened a handful of people, it is not at all easy to grasp how the fire that erupted yesterday at the Services Hospital could not leave a bigger impact? Seven newborns were killed in that fire and somehow everyone still seems to be talking about Dr.Arsalan Iftikhar’s fate.

Fires at hospitals, crime on the streets and fake drugs in the market impact the common man much more than government-opposition battles, high-profile court cases and the foreign policy, yet we are constantly made to forget this and instead focus on things that will barely make any difference to our existence. Our leaders, media and society ensure that things that matter remain in the shadows so that the common man can remain distracted.

About 26 underweight and premature babies were under treatment in the unit when it was engulfed in flames. Sources claim the fire was caused by a short circuit in the room and when hospital staff failed to put it out, they ran for safety, leaving the babies to burn. Nine other infants were injured and shifted to the emergency ward.

A source said the hospital administration had ignored the complaints of a staff nurse about frequent sparking caused by short-circuit in the air-conditioner in the unit. Should we be surprised then that there were no fire extinguishers in the ward either?

All news reports claim that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif came to the hospital, inspected the damage and ordered a committee to conduct an investigation of the incident. What else can he do anyway? While he is so deeply caught up in the battle for power, how will he have time to pay attention to a deteriorating healthcare system?

Be it the deaths caused by dengue fever, the fake drug scandal or the disastrous state of hospitals – the chief minister has failed and no amount of investigations and committees can bring back the seven infants who were left in their incubators to die or the dozens others whose deaths could have been prevented.

For that matter, not just the chief minister but the chief justice and the chief executive have failed us. Where every politician and aspiring leader is eager to take power and lead the nation, it is sad that there is no one to look at the smaller units that make up the country – healthcare in particular. Because of no accountability, hospital administrations do not feel the need to maintain their standards and because of no interest, officials do not feel the need to focus on these issues.

Where our voices will not be heard when it comes to the Pak-US relations and military tactics, our voice can definitely be heard in sectors such as education and healthcare. If we continue to consume the hopelessness served to us, there will be no change – school walls will keep collapsing, fires will keep engulfing hospitals and street crime will continue to flourish. Instead of debating and analyzing the current political dramas and daily suo moto notices, the Pakistani public should instead channel their energies here. Demand for a better system, donate towards a better system and reject the distractions thrown your way by a shrewd and self-serving government.

The writer is the Deputy Editor at