EVEN in a country as inured to deprivation and tragedy as ours, the recently confirmed news of the death of nine newborns within a space of 12 hours at Larkana’s Chandka Medical College Hospital was shocking. The details, as they emerged, painted a picture of a hospital with far too few resources for the number of patients in its care and no neo-natal ICU with functional incubators; instead, a paediatric emergency ward where babies, including preemies, are accommodated together several to a bed, increasing the risk of cross-infection. These are among the factors that seem to have been largely responsible for the deaths.
Last June, a fire at the Services Hospital in Lahore — entirely preventable had timely action been taken — killed 10 babies. Despite the conclusion drawn by several investigations that the hospital’s nursery section be moved elsewhere as it had no fire escape, this has not been done. At the Chandka Hospital, many infants are underweight because they are born to anaemic, malnourished women who make the journey from far-flung communities where there is little or no medical care, let alone hospital facilities, available. The distance also puts at risk the lives of both mother and child in case of complications in home deliveries. While on the surface, the incidents appear very different, they are both evidence of the official apathy and institutional disregard for human life — especially that which commands the least political clout — in this part of the world. Also, given the ruling PPP’s symbiotic relationship with Larkana, the fact that a leading government hospital in this city has such a paucity of resources for the ‘ghareeb awam’ that the party claims as its constituency is particularly shameful. When will our political elite treat health as a fundamental human right rather than a privilege to be enjoyed by the select few?