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Holding onto dear life


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Arsalan Ali—3 months suffering from acute pneumonia and a hole in the heart. - Photo by Saadia Tariq

He was bundled in a stark white cloth, his head gaping through the wrapper as he was being ruthlessly carried out of the ward. He was born on the first day of this year, 2011 and died four days later – couldn’t battle long enough for sufficient oxygen. Son of Abdul Sattar died of asphyxia and breathed his last at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

The sight was horrific and disconcerting. However, for the medical staff it was a typical incident, which they encounter at least four to five times a day. As we walked through the ward, the parents looked at us with helplessness in their eyes, hoping that we are some senior medical practitioners. Or magical practitioner for that matter – who could wand away their child’s illness and revive them back to health.

We were neither!

Their temporary hope was crushed back to the debilitated facilities of the ward. They were thrown back to the mercy of ill-equipped and unhygienic premises, back to the mercy of irresponsible nurses and undependable doctors.

Pakistan’s public health care sector is under-resourced and over-whelmed. Physicians and nurses display extreme irresponsibility primarily due to lack of financial incentives and resources in terms of medical equipment, facilities, etc.

In the last decade or so, urban cities in the country have seen a drain on resources because of rural migration. Poor sanitation, lack of infrastructure and proper health care are some of the few issues that urban slum dwellers face. Unfortunately people have no access to a continuous, compassionate, family centered and accessible healthcare.

In the low income group, deaths are primarily due to unhygienic home deliveries, premature births and inadequate post-natal care. Low socio-economic conditions, below par income, population explosion and illiteracy are some of the major contributory factors to poor health and high morbidity levels.

The National Institute of Child Health was opened in Karachi in 1962 in the building of the present Basic Medical Science Institute in Jinnah Hospital premises. The emergency ward witnesses an insurgence of patients suffering from diarrhea, respiratory infections, kidney problems and burns. Statistic for December 2010 show there were 120 deaths with half of them being newborns and the other unfortunate half being under 12.

It is interesting to note that until about two years ago the emergency ward was in shambles, with the monthly mortality rate being 250. Until about two years ago the ward was managed by the government.

In April 2009 a young lady, Zantiana Saqib decided to take on the emergency ward of NICH and protect the poor from rising health care costs. Having worked as a full-time volunteer in the Nephrology department of NICH for five years, Saqib realised the need to help the poor children who came to the hospital, suffering from severe illness yet hopeful of survival – many not all, never left the hospital alive. Being a young mother herself, she desperately wanted to alleviate the dismal condition of the ward and offer free medication to the needy children. She had to climb a steep learning curve to understand the workings of the ward as well as dealing with the management staff. Since the last two years she has worked diligently to train her team, manage supplies and control inventory. According to Saqib, “Parents blamed themselves for their child’s death. I wanted to assure them that access to proper health care could do wonders.”

The ward is still in shambles. There is cracked paint on the drab walls, rustic equipment and absence of basic hygiene and sanitation. It is crowded with teary-eyed mothers and suffering children.

However, with her relentless efforts (along with two co-workers, Abdul Ghanchi and Faiza Usman), she has managed to bring down the mortality rate by half. Bulk of the medication is bought from pharmaceutical giants like Roche, Merck and Abbott on a monthly basis, stored in a warehouse and brought to NICH each week. The medicines are then dispensed on the doctor’s prescription to every patient – absolutely free of cost. Saqib has also managed to maintain and update the medical equipment that was present at the time she took over the ER.

Yet, her biggest challenge remains restrained access to capital, the kind of capital that would make a positive social impact on the families living in that area.

The disparity of good health between the privileged and the poor is becoming wider and wider. It is our social responsibility to engage in community services and help reform the lives of young children and their parents who are not so privileged.

To improve the public health care system in Pakistan we have to collaborate and work together. We have to organise and devise solutions, both large and small, to improve the lives of the poor.

We have to give them their basic right to live – which is good health!

Saadia Tariq is an avid photographer based in Singapore.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (10) Closed

S M ALI ZAIDI Mar 06, 2011 06:04pm
i still believe that there are committed people around in every field and they are doing at their best, all we have to do , is to share our part with some responsibility. i salute these peoples out there striving for the purpose...!!!
Saba Maraj Feb 22, 2011 06:06am
Oh! I wish i can do something, whenever i listen or see something like this my heart cries. I feel so helpless. Our people are in misery. please tell me what to do. I want to volunteer. May God bless you Ms. Zantiana Saqib. You are an angel in this society. Thank you so much for your dedication and may God showers His blessings on you and your family for their help and support. Keep up the good work.
indrajeet Feb 22, 2011 09:58pm
You can start by collecting unused medicines from public and then distribute them to needy.
Mohammad Ali Feb 21, 2011 01:10pm
A very well articulated article. We need more people like Zantiana who are there to help and people like Saadia to convey this message not to the masses but infact the minority by which we are ruled
Shiv Lahiri Feb 21, 2011 11:48am
This article should be conveyed to all those who are against family planning and state that the children are gift of God. The only reason for this state is exponential increase in population. By the time the state manages the resources - the population increases further. Any sane minded person can see that rapid population explosion is bound to anull all advancement.
Shashwat Mishra Feb 21, 2011 10:30am
This is a painful incident and the infant's parents will be inconsolable. God give them strength. It is not uncommon for the economically under-privileged or the common national seeking affordable healthcare to find sub par and overcrowded hospitals. Due to media coverage perhaps, a symathetic politician (one can hope) will overhaul this hospital atleast. It may prevent future deaths.
anila Feb 21, 2011 11:06am
It is v sad to hear about the mortality rate at the hospital. however I would like to appreciate Zantiana Saqib and her other collegues who are helping her out.With the effort of such people, we can defintately improve the condition of our country. We need more of such people coz relying on government is not enough We all pakistanis can help our country in our own way if we want to.
JN-DXB Feb 21, 2011 10:09am
Whenever I visit Pakistan I am horrified at what people do irrespective of their so caled 'status'. The so called land of the pure is far from it. From cows eating rubbish on waste land through to people defecating in the streets. We have no pride in our environment and surroundings. People build stunning villas and create amazing gardens but dump everything in the street outside like it doesn't matter. The article is truly heart-breaking, however, as well as donating money we need to improve basic education and awareness. Islam teaches us cleanliness and hygeine and yet we ignore it. From performing ghusl and Wudu to manners in washrooms, we have a code of ethics and yet it is truly disgusting to see the state of our nation. The horror begins when you board a PIA flight with used nappies simply dumped on the floor and doesn't end until you arrive back in dubai and its shiny airport terminals. Don't start saying we don't have the money to fund cleanliness. The poor cleaners are paid a pittance. We can do the same and clean up our nation if only we had some pride and values - irrespective of being rich or poor. If only these mullahs would focus on what matters instead of whipping up the masses into a frenzy over non issues such as danish cartoonists. Basic hygeine and awareness of your surroundings should be taught as much as the alif, bay, taay. When we improve ourselves then as a mass of people we will improve our neighbourhoods, cities, provinces and country. A little change can help a lot.
Ayesha Feb 22, 2011 03:55pm
I think Pakistan is desperate for educated and responsible doctors and qualified nurses. Young graduates are moving out of the country to serve other nations but not their homeland for better quality of life. The Medical facility should be funded by the government, and not privately run. Now, only the rich could access the best care, and the poor are left to suffer and die. It should be a joint effort and responsibility of every Pakistani to voice their concerns, and not just sob their sorrows away. Good engineers and doctors abroad, should be called back home to observe who needs them most.
coach outlet Mar 08, 2011 11:23am
so greatpost.the item