The perilous health situation in Sindh hospitals has reached catastrophic proportions

If it can't improve things, the provincial government should hand over all the hospitals to reputed NGOs for better management

On the night of 12 December, my mother got a serious brain hemorrhage attack and was referred from Shikarpur hospital to Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences for proper treatment. On 13 December Sunday 8 am, she was brought to the emergency ward of the hospital, where no doctor was found to be on duty. Following repeated phone calls, the irresponsible and haughty neuron-physician came to examine her exactly after eight hours. He also referred the case to Hira Hospital Sukkur, which is a private hospital. Meanwhile, a medical officer treated my mother on telephonic instructions of the neuro-physician. The hospital management did not provide even basic medicines, canola, or syringes from the hospital store. Everything was purchased from private medical stores. Not a single nurse or other paramedical staff was found taking care of the patients in the neuro-surgical department of the hospital.

In interior Sindh, the district headquarters hospitals lack pathologists, urologists, radiologists, orthopedic surgeons, eye and ENT specialists, senior physicians, general surgeons and state of the art facilities, which haunts poor patients. Although the hospitals work round the clock and a huge number of patients visit them daily, they do not get adequate treatment because of a dearth of specialists and basic medicines. Approximately 90 per cent of admitted and emergency patients are referred to the public and private hospitals in Karachi, where, to secure life of their dear ones, people have to bear costly treatment. Meanwhile, Sindh government is running the teaching hospitals of Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and Nawabshah. Their performance is not satisfactory to cater to healthcare needs of patients. The crucial reason behind the poor state of affairs in both teaching and district headquarter hospitals is mismanagement, apathy, corruption and political interference in appointments, transfers and postings of doctors and paramedical staff.

Sindh is lagging behind the rest of the country in health indicators. According to an analysis carried out by the health department for the newly launched Sindh Health Sector Strategy (2012-2020), detection of tuberculosis has reached 59 per cent. The existence of Hepatitis B and C is a major concern. Children and women experience highest rate of undernourishment, in the province. Alarmingly 40 percent children and 62 percent mothers are undernourished. As a result, 73 percent children are anemic and only 27 percent childbirths occur in proper health facilities.

Women are the backbone of Sindh’s rural economy. It is a shocking reality that they face grave chronic health problems. Over 60 percent of poor women do not have access to public healthcare services. In spite of this, the government has not taken any pragmatic action to deal with the situation in order to improve female healthcare in the province.

In Sindh, regrettably, record corruption and irregularities in funds have been made in health department. Substandard medicines, in collusion with pharmacist companies, have been bought for millions of rupees by 18 hospitals and Ghulam Muhammad Medical College Sukkur. Besides, a huge figure of doctors is permanently absent (ghost) from hospitals, but has been taking salaries regularly for a long time. No one is willing to take action against the doctors.

The Rao Bahadur Udho Tarachand (RBUT) a district headquarters hospital Shikarpur also suffers from an acute shortage of specialist doctors, medicines and state of art facilities. The Sindh government had upgraded it to teaching hospital two years ago, but sadly this pro-people decision has not been implemented so far. The specialist doctors of Ghulam Muhammad Medical College Sukkur have been refusing to join it. In this situation, mostly patients are referred to other hospitals in Sukkur and Karachi rather than being provided with the treatment there. People injured in the Shikarpur bomb blast who were brought to the hospital could not be provided treatment. As result a huge number of them died in the hospital due to shortage of specialists and basic medicines. In Sindh Assembly, the PML-F leaders MPA Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh and former opposition leader Shahryar Khan Mahar have repeatedly expressed dismay over mismanagement and all other problems in almost all public sector hospitals in Sindh, especially Shikarpur hospital. Imtiaz Ahmed Shaikh suggested constituting boards to oversee the working of hospitals and that elected representatives also be nominated on their boards to help improve the system but the government has not taken sincere initiatives to resolve it.

The government of Sindh has to equip all government hospitals with the latest medical technology, necessary lifesaving drugs and fully equipped labs to provide basic health facilities to the people in their own districts and tehsils. To bring about transparency and to avoid corruption, the committees comprising the philanthropists, honest doctors and civil society members are to be formed to make purchases of medicines and machinery of a good quality. Otherwise the other option for the government is to take bold decision to hand over all the hospitals to reputed NGOs for better management of health issues.

Shaikh Abdul Rasheed is a social activist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter