Fighting fit: A place of hope and healing

Navy’s 25-bed hospital is the only such facility south of Quetta, west of Karachi


Irfan Ghauri January 16, 2016
Navy’s 25-bed hospital is the only such facility south of Quetta, west of Karachi. PHOTO: IRFAN GHAURI

ORMARA: Along the 800-kilometre scenic coastline of Balochistan is a town that dates as far back as 300BC. Located in Gwadar district, 350 kilometres west of Karachi, Ormara was named after Ormoz, a general in Alexander the Great’s army who died there during the Greek conqueror’s expedition to South Asia.

Much like Balochistan in general, the entire stretch from Hub near Karachi up to Jewani bordering Iran has remained neglected by successive military and civilian regimes. Ormara, however, has a ray of hope in the form of the PNS Darmaan Jah, a 25-bed hospital established by the Pakistan Navy at Jinnah Naval Base, a secondary base along the coastline where the government is building the deep sea port of Gwadar.

The hospital, primarily built to provide health facilities to navy troops and employees of law enforcement agencies, also serves hundreds of civilian patients each day.

Darmaan Jah, a place of healing in Balochi dialect, is a rare oasis with modern facilities for the hundreds of thousands of people residing south of Quetta and west of Karachi. It is the only alternative to the rural health centres, and tehsil and district hospitals which lie in shambles, devoid of any proper machinery or manpower.

Commander Faisal, a surgeon doctor who heads Darmaan Jah, says Pakistan Navy plans to expand the 25-bed facility to 50 beds in the near future and to 100 beds in the long-run. Since its inception in September 2011, around 172,000 patients have visited the hospital. More than 130,000 of these were civilians who were provided free treatment, medicines and tests, says Commander Faisal.

Dr Benish, a lady doctor working at the hospital, tells The Express Tribune that urinary tract infections, anemia, epilepsy and fungal infections are common in the area. She has also seen some cases of thalassemia. However, patients with complicated diseases are referred to a naval hospital in Karachi.

Besides the navy, a few philanthropists also send in donations for the hospital. The provincial government, too, contributed Rs1.5 million last year, a sum not enough to cater to the 300-odd patients who visit the facility every day.

Base commander of Ormara, Dardar Amjad sums up what the hospital needs in a single sentence: “Donations from affluent Pakistanis and resources from the government.”

Water and power woes

Traditionally, Ormara does not have the archaic feudal system that authorities have since long cited as the root cause of the deprivation of Balochistan’s people and an impediment to development.

Yet, with a population of around 50,000, Ormara gets electricity only for six hours a day – that too through generators, since no transmission line has ever been laid there. When fuel for the generators run out, the area is plunged into darkness. Still, it’s a blessing, one made possible when the Pakistan Navy constructed its base in the vicinity.

At present, Pakistan imports only 78 megawatts (MW) of electricity from Iran to power the entire coastal belt. Government documents, on the other hand, claim the country can import up to 3,000 MW of electricity from Iran.

However, there is no word from the government if it intends to rely on imported power from the neighbouring country or generate its own electricity to deal with the anticipated hike in demand, especially after the completion of the Gwadar port, the most important component of the multi-billion dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

The local and provincial administrations have never bothered to reach out to the area’s people – most of whom earn a living through fishing –  to provide basic amenities, complain locals. Residents of Ormara say a scheme to fetch water from Basol River, around 25 kilometres away, was approved by the provincial government more than a decade ago.

It is, however, yet to see the light of day. They are thus left with the only option of buying a tanker for Rs3,000, a sum beyond the means of most locals. Those who cannot afford to buy water rely on the Pakistan Navy, which delivers water to a few mosques for ablution.

It is unfortunate that an area so rich in natural resources and steeped in the mesmerizing beauty of crystal clear waters, aquatic life, mountains and plateaus is reeling from the apathy that afflicts the shores of the expansive Arabian Sea.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2016.

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