Dogs roam around the corridors of Lyari General Hospital. And on the staircase, a child enthusiastically drags a goat upstairs before he is stopped by a staffer and made to take his four-legged friend back.
It is as you enter the cavernous rooms that some semblance of a medical facility emerges. Patients lie in their wards and the administration says it had “everything” to deal with the two dozen patients who were admitted after a rally was attacked in Lea Market on May 22. This was roughly half of the total number of people who were injured.
It is virtually unheard of for victims of a shooting attack to be admitted to a public hospital other than Civil hospital or the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. But Lyari General has become a more popular choice of late apparently as victims themselves request to be taken there. In other cases, an increased flow of such gunshot cases is also the outcome of some smart thinking by rescue workers.
Saleem Anwar is an ambulance driver for Edhi who was at Paan Mandi when the rally was attacked on Tuesday. He says residents of Lyari prefer being taken to Lyari General because they feel it is more secure and not necessarily because of the quality of treatment offered there. As far as facilities go, he remarks candidly, “It is a hospital only on paper”.
It all boils down to being identified with Lyari – long considered fair game by the police. “Since the identity cards [of the gunshot wound patients] say they are from Lyari, the injured are at risk of being taken away by the police even as they’re being treated,” explains Saleem. “Also, anyone who is nominated [in a case] doesn’t want to be picked up by the police. So they insist we take them to Lyari General.” In fact, the ambulance drivers get into trouble with the families if a patient is taken to Civil or Jinnah hospitals and then picked up by the police for questioning.
For his part, Lyari General’s administrator Dr Hasan Akhtar denies that these are the reasons. He did say, however, that the police were not allowed to enter the hospital. “They do come outside and have collected information from there, but the police are not allowed to enter the premises,” he told The Express Tribune. Akhtar also said that they did not ask people admitted after the Lea Market attack how they were injured.
A Lyari General employee said that the hospital had treated members of the banned Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) too, but without any ramifications for the staff. Photographs of PAC head Uzair Baloch are plastered on several walls in the hospital.
But the politicisation of a hospital isn’t restricted to Lyari General. For years, people of several ethnic groups and political affiliations have either avoided or favoured going to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital in Nazimabad since it is in an area dominated by one particular group. The same applies to Civil and Jinnah hospitals.
During the numerous outbreaks of violence in Karachi, people have told The Express Tribune that they do not allow family members to visit their injured relatives at public hospitals like Civil for fear that they may be targeted in the area.
The difference at Civil and Jinnah hospitals is that law-enforcement officials are easily able to interview anyone they consider a suspect. This often happens despite the staff’s requests to allow the treatment to take place first. Lyari General’s growing popularity for emergency cases appears to be a result of these practices. Even then, some patients have to make the trek to Civil; at least four of the most critical cases received by Lyari General on May 22 were transferred back to Civil for advanced treatment.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.
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