Free medicines arrive from one gate, leave through another

Political presence in the wards is causing further nuisance to the hospital.

Saher Baloch January 31, 2011

KARACHI: In a long queue outside the pharmacy window at Civil Hospital, Karachi, a man is cursing at the top of his voice. He has been in line for the past hour and when his turn finally came, he was told that medicine supplies had run out.

Rehmat Khan had no other option but to shout out aloud and storm out of the hospital to buy medicines from a private pharmacy. There were, however, several others who patiently continued to wait.

The attendants complained that this ‘sudden’ shortage happens every day and happens mainly because the bulk of medicines are being smuggled out of the hospital. This alleged ‘mafia’ is being run by activists of political parties and the paramedical staff, who sign on the consignment to make sure it safely exits the building.

These medicines are usually sold to wholesale markets, said a senior doctor on the condition of anonymity. In most of the cases, the cartons are sold outside the city, mostly in rural Sindh, just to avoid being caught. One carton of medicines earns Rs20,000 and the figure increases three-fold if the carton has life-saving medicines.

A staffer at Civil hospital explained how swiftly the smuggling process is carried out. As soon as the truck drops the cartons from the government, a Suzuki van enters the hospital and loads most of them again. Before anyone notices or points out to the authorities, the van disappears out of sight. “No one dares say anything because these men carry weapons,” a staffer said.

The hospital’s medical superintendent, Dr Saeed Qureshi, was aware of this. He pointed out, however, that “just a few cartons are pilfered within a day”. He explained that the medicines cannot be taken anywhere as a gate pass is needed to go out of the building. But the ‘mafia’ has found a way around this as well. The medicines are issued on a patient’s name with the support of an operation theatre technician or a nurse which makes it easier for such cartons to leave the building.

“Our target is clear. We can only provide medicines to an in-patient, not an out-patient and if they are complaining then it is useless,” said Dr Qureshi. He added that it was not their concern if there were no medicines available for out-patients.

For the past one and a half year, Dr Qureshi has been battling political activists operating from within the hospital. “Patient welfare is the basic excuse these people use to operate from the hospital and it gives them the leeway to do as they please,” he said. “If someone tries to stop them they are treated horribly.” Even as he said this, there were some men waiting outside his office to have a word with him on the transfers and postings of some ‘workers’ to different departments.

Transferring is the only way to deal with these so-called workers, said National Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases (NICVD) director Dr Jamal Raza. He recently transferred some workers as they were caught stealing medicines. But he learned the hard way, as the transfers precipitated an outcry and the workers forced the crowded out-patients department to close and damaged hospital property. As a result, the police and Rangers are always present outside the hospital.

CHK’s Dr Qureshi feels that it is the job of the government to put some sense into these people. “Unless and until there is the political will to stop such a nuisance, you and I cannot do anything at all. We can either silently suffer or leave the place altogether, which is not right at all.”

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st,  2011.


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