Karachiites at a loss as Covid-19 helpline snubs calls

Published: May 21, 2020
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It took Shiraz multiple calls and many rebuffs to get his pregnant wife's test results. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

It took Shiraz multiple calls and many rebuffs to get his pregnant wife's test results. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KARACHI: Shiraz*, a resident of Liaquatabad in Karachi, was anxious as he wheeled his 30-year-old expecting wife, Meera, into a private hospital last week. The delivery was due any time now and doctors had advised the couple to go for a surgery immediately.

But how, when Meera’s Covid-19 test results were yet to come – despite being long overdue?

Just days before the birth of their baby girl, the couple was forced to contact a doctor at a private hospital after those at a public hospital appeared apprehensive to operate on Meera, who was facing a complicated pregnancy.

“But the doctor asked me to get her tested for Covid-19 before the surgery,” said Shiraz, narrating his ordeal. He was quick to approach the officials at Karachi’s Central district office on Monday afternoon for his wife’s test but was turned away.

“I was told that it was too late and asked to come again the next day,” he recalled, adding that he, however, again contacted the official through a friend in the evening. “But they told me that the team does not work round-the-clock, even though it was an emergency.”

Dismayed, the family had little choice but to wait until the next day – but their wait turned out to be a long one.

“We kept trying to reach the officials through the helpline but no one picked up,” claimed Shiraz. It was not until 6.30pm that Meera’s samples were finally collected, but the relief proved to be short-lived.

According to Shiraz, the officials collecting the samples told him that the family would not get the results. “I was shocked at first. I insisted that they help me out and they advised me to approach the district health office or the district administration to get a hard copy of it.”

But by then, Meera’s condition had worsened and she had to be rushed to a private hospital.

Shiraz continued to try to approach Karachi commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani through friends, in hopes of receiving help, but in vain.

He waited till late at night before verbally being informed of the result, when he managed to get in touch with an official at the Chief Minister House, allowing his wife to undergo surgery.

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Shiraz is one among many who have been snubbed by authorities in their quest to get their loved ones tested.

While health department officials claim that people are informed of their results within 24 hours and the Karachi commissioner’s control room maintains it takes two days to release results, citizens complain that their calls often go unanswered.

Mohan Lal from Lyari, Nasir Hussain from Safoora Goth and Junaid Khan from Shah Faisal Colony all experienced this first hand.

“I tried calling the helpline at least 20 times but no one answered the calls,” complained Lal.

Hussain too maintained that he called on the coronavirus helpline number for guidance multiple times, for hours, but to no avail.

“When I called the commissioner’s office, I was first told that I had called his residence and the second time, the official who responded seemed unwilling to provide much help,” he claimed. “He told me that he would register my complaint and communicate it to the relevant district office.”

Hussain had to make do without any advice and guidance.

Another citizen, Akbar,* too complained that he had to wait ages to get tested.

“When I called on the helpline number, the staff told me that a testing team would contact me itself,” he said, dismayed.

The residents of Karachi continue to face difficulties in the absence of a citizen-friendly system to correspond with relevant officials regarding the pandemic.

On the other hand, Sindh health minister’s spokesperson Meeran Yousuf maintains that the helpline remains functional round the clock and officials are always available to address citizens’ queries.

Similarly, when contacted, an official at helpline number 9123 gave the number to Shallwani’s office for further assistance, maintaining that his job was to only guide citizens.

Meanwhile, despite multiple attempts, Shallwani remained unavailable for comment.

*Names changes to protect privacy

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