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