Gilgit - Baltistan

Feature: Health woes of Hunza – Gojal

by Ali Sarwar

On a stormy day, in the last town of Pakistan, on the Karakuram Highway, a young man sitting on roof of a van hit a partially open road barrier and was knocked over, badly inured; with deep wounds on his head and torso. He was rushed to the nearest village, the picturesque Passu, with a first aid unit facility. He had to be rushed to Aliabad, about 60 Kms away, because the dispensary wasn’t equipped and highly unhygienic. From Aliabad, because of similar reasons, he was shifted to Gilgit, hundred kilometres apart. After hours of travel the injured, losing breath, was taken to the Gilgit — Hospital, the ‘best and the biggest’ in the entire region. But fate of the patient, it seems, wasn’t to die in peace, at least. The physicians, unequipped or untrained, God alone knows, directed the relatives to take him to Rawalpindi — over a thousand

operation theater
operation theater

 kilometres away. The family member complied. They had been travelling for four and a half hours, leaving Gilgit city, and had reached Chilas, when the angel of death struck, finally. So, there wasn’t any point in travelling further south. The journey towards north began, instantly. The dead body had to be taken back for burial.

The account narrated above is not a scene out of a documentary, composed to soften the heart of donors. It is a heart wrenching true story, which shattered a family in the Gojal Valley of Gilgit — Baltistan, in upper Hunza. Patients die in similar or even more horrible conditions in all corners of Gilgit — Baltistan, without any exception.

 Recently the head of a child being delivered in a hospital in Chilas severed from the body as a non-professional Dai tried to ‘help’ the mother in conceiving her first child.

The story made headlines in the regional press but the national press remained, as usual, numb, and unmoved.

A hospital was visited in the Tehsil capital of Gojal Valley to get some ground realities about the health facilities available in the region by the government of Pakistan. This led me to an interesting encounter with a messiah who had the healing powers, he claimed, but lacked the magic ‘wands’. The Civil Hospital, Gulmit, located in the largest village of Gojal Valley, is a ten bedded facility constructed three years ago for the population of 25000 of Gojal bordering China. It is an impressive building made of stone and concrete, well designed and built. It is clean for two reasons; one, only five patients, on average, the doctor told, visited this facility and, two, the hospital was well staffed, save for qualified doctor(s) and technicians.

I was led to the spacious wards, the ‘operation’ theater, the radiology room and the dentists’ room. I found an operating table; some well kept beds and an X — Ray machine, wrapped in plastic, and a unit for the dentist, well wrapped under plastic, gathering dust. The machines need men or even women, if they can be found, to be operated.

The wise planners have sent all the big machines to this hospital, without thinking, apparently, about the people who would be required to operate these. It is quite clear that by the time the operators, being trained somewhere, arrive the machines will be classified as antiques, ready to be moved to an archive of medical equipments, in some museum.

Medicine supply for entire Gojal valley


“The PC — 4 is being awaited”, said the doctor. It seems that the journey on path of ‘enlightenment’ and ‘empowerment’, in the corridors of powers, gets completed in four, distant, steps.

 Of course one fails to understand the operating of the bureaucracy machine and, one also admits that the political machine needs a lot of greasing, but what has happened to the lively and vibrant civil society of Gojal and Hunza Valleys? Is it fair that their patients die because of lack of equipments and trained professionals?

If not, why are they not resisting? Why is there so much silence?The exterior of hospital


The writer holds a Masters degree in Economics from Karachi University.

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  1. I like the style of your writing, same like Javed Choudhry, keep writing on differnt issues,

    best of luck

    Ali Anwar

  2. Ali Sarwar, first was shocked to hear about the loss of precious life.

    Secondly i was impressed how nicely and competently you narrated the story and the precarious situation of secondary and tertiary health facilities and the lack of human resources.

    It obviously raises many questions:

    1.Transport safety: As an educated society,there is a need to create awarness about safe driving and safety of passengers, as well as the passengers themselves taking responsibility for their safety by not climbing roof tops etc., while traveling long distances in mountains;

    2. Career choices: What career choices our youth are making, how is it relevant to the needs of the area and the market? A guesstimate shows a minority group of students opt for science subjects. Even after completing matric with science and FSC, students shift to arts and commerce subjects or dropout. Quite a few go for technical training like lab and op technician courses or course in radiography, ECG, EEG etc.,

    3. Lack of political leadership: Yes you are right. while it is the responsibility of the elected representatives and the heads of the political parties and their activists in the area to act as watchdogs to protect the interests fo the people and check mismanagement in government departments, it is also the responsibility of the media, the civil society and ordinary people to voice their concerns to the relevant quarters.

    The so-called ‘civil society’ needs to wake up, and raise voices against mismanagement, corruption, inefficiency and incompetence, especially where the life, dignity and honour of the people are at stake.

    Political parties are considered to be the torch bearers of the civil society at large. Can they raise voice and mobilize other groups to at least take only two sectors, say health and education in the tehsil and develop mechanisms to resolve the issues?

    The PT, through contributors like you, could help bring the real issues to light and help formulate proposals and mobilise support through PT.

    Lets put our efforts together and lauch a movement to do advocacy and lobbying.

    Amin Beg

  3. Its realy a big problem of health in gojal.the people needs awerness in this area.good reflection of the situation by sarwer in the sectors. a lot oe work to do 4 the improvement of the area.

  4. Dear Sarwar,
    The issue you have raised through this piece of writing is very much geniune and the creative segment you have added to highlight the one of the realities is appreciable and deserves great adulations.
    No doubt, we are going through a crutial situation despite the fact that we have representatives who claim to have done more than ever in the history.
    I would like to divert the attention of the young blood towards this matter as a matter which has remained persistent for longer time because of negligence.
    There are alot more problems that are pending to be resolved and would be done when the young blood works as a task force with a solid mendate to overcome the mess generated because of less attention.
    Let’s move abreast to call a spadea spade in the best interest of the people of the region by putting our utmost efforts.
    There can be a huge difference when we are together with a common goal.
    Best of luck and all the very best
    Asla Ghalib

  5. Dear Readers,

    Thank you for your comments but I am of the opinion that only words of appreciation for each other would not suffice. The condition of health facilities in the region demands action, and that too swift action.

    I would request all the youth from Gojal to prod the sleeping representatives to demand from the government the basic health facilities. The Gulmit hospital’s construction completed since last three years and some medical equipment were also provided but the staff to run this hospital has not yet been appointed.

    I went through the chemistry of the allocation of posts to governments institutions, this year the government has also anncounced some post for Northern Area (according to rough estimate 1000 post have been announced ) and health department will be allocated some posts according to quota reserved for health department.

    Since there are many hospitals in Northern Area in the same condition as the Gulmit hospital, there will be stiff competitions for allocation of posts among many districts, so as the posts get announced our reprenentatives from the village and Chief Executive Mr. Ghanzfer should be approached to win some posts for Tehsil headquarter hospital at Gulmit.

    I request all readers specially the individuals residing in Gilgit, to mobilize our representatives to shift their ‘kind’ attention towards health woes of Gojal and Hunza. That is if they get time off their ‘Thekedari jobs’ , in places like Kashmir and Kashmore!!

    Ali Sarwar

  6. It is tempting to recognise the quality of writing and methods of exposition employed by Ali Sarwar sahip to demonstrate and highlight a critical issue faced by the marginalised people of GIligit-Baltistan. It is only through public dialogue; discussion and understanding that we can hope to achieve our long-due goals of fundamental human rights which include access to primary health care among other things. Contributions from people like Ali Sarwar would certainly add flavour and colour to the diverse processes of struggle that we need to grapple with elements of status quo in Hunza, and in the wider region.

    Some time back these critical issues of health care, project monitoring, education, and rural development were considered as the areas of concern for NGOs. Now is the time to realise that it is the government that has got to take responsibility for these problems. It falls on the shoulders of CE Ghuzamfar to use his so called influence and connections to help set up quality health centres and monitor that the public initiative is fulfilled, and realised. While we accept that the main responsibility comes on the shoulders of the government but it must also be the public which should come forward to contribute its share of responsibility. People should realise that public health facilities are there to cater their needs therefore all kinds of public facilities need proper care, attention, and monitoring. While people should awaken their leaders but they must also take small steps that could slowly, but steadily improves our quality of life.

    Ali al-Hakim

  7. Excellent work done Sarwar. keep up the good work.

    Our youth must go for fields like ECG, X-Ray and Laboratory technicians etc. Here in Abbottabad everyone from North is busy doing DBA ( Diploma In Business Administration).

  8. A very nice piece of writing by Sarwar, I hope our young fellows try to follow him and focus on such important issues of our region.

    It is really unfortunate that despite all the claims that we have achieved high literacy rate, getting higher standards of living and many others and if we open our eyes out of this fantasy, we come to realize that we have progressed but not in an organized way. We need to focus on the need to equip ourselves with more skills that can be utilized anywhere.

    Majority of our youth are leading their careers in fields that have no application in our rural and mountainous region and after completion of their education they are compelled to seek jobs in the urban areas where there is already high unemployment and fierce competition for good jobs. This results in multidimensional problem both for our youth and our parents back at home.

    I suggest that comprehensive career counseling is needed at an early level involving parents and other educated youth and professional at every school on annual basis to give awareness to our youth and their parents. They should also be made aware of the challenges and threats their young children have to face living in societies which are loosing moral values day by day.

    If education means drain of our best minds then it it may be beneficial for the individual but it is a total loss for the society in which they have brought up as they leave that society when it is time for them to contribute.

    Today it is really sad to note that a large majority of our youth have already moved to cities. And more importantly majority of our students have enrolled for studies in Commerce and Business administration, which has in fact, less application in our rural societies.

    Drain of our best minds has also resulted in irreparable loss in our social, political, economical and cultural aspects of our rural society. We need to address these issues besides others.

    Sher Karim

  9. Still we are looking to hear from the wise readers in Gilgit, whether any idea is going through their mind about the health issues of Hunza. As we are witnessing huge inflows of patients from that Area spending a substantial amount of money for treatment in Karachi and other cities and its impact on the economy of individuals and the area.


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