Around the globe expecting parents start planning about how to make their unborn children’s future brighter. However, Kareema Bibi and her husband Mohammed Ismail have to fight every day just to try and give their children a chance at living into the future.
“My elder son, Mohammad Raees, 8, needs a blood transfusion after every eight days, while my youngest, Mohammad Naseer , 3, needs one every ten days. We are very poor and cannot afford to buy blood bags for them. Each one costs Rs 200 and sometimes more, but what can we do? We cannot see them dying like this,” said Kareema.
The family lives near Chaklala Scheme III in Rawalpindi on Ismail’s limited earnings as a daily-wage labourer. He hardly earns Rs 200 to Rs300 per week and has to pay Rs6,000 per month on house rent and utility bills.
Kareema and Ismail are cousins and have had six children together. They said that before getting married, they knew nothing of thalassaemia, the hereditary blood disorder threatening the lives of their children.
The disease only occurs when both parents carry the thalassaemia gene, even if they do not have the disease itself.
“We first learnt about thalassaemia when one of our sons was diagnosed. At that time, we could not afford blood transfusions for him and he died at the age of seven,” said Kareema Bibi.
Instead of toys and books, Raees and Naseer were carrying syringes in their hands, which are used to administer Desferal — a drug which to manage iron in the bloodstream of transplant recipients.
“My children are living with unbearable pain. Naseer is too young to understand the disease and how to carry a syringe. He usually just plays with them like toys,” she said.
The thalassaemia centre at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) recently refused to continue treatment for Raees as his case has become complicated.
“He has enlarged spleen and liver, due to which his stomach has swollen and doctors have suggested that we either continue blood transfusions or opt for a surgery, which we obviously cannot afford,” she lamented. She said Raees wants to play like other children his age, but cannot because of his illness.
“Most of his life has been spent in beds, either in hospitals or at home,” she said.
The parents have appealed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and other philanthropist for financial support to save the lives of their children.
Meanwhile, talking to The Express Tribune, a senior doctor at the thalassaemia centre of Holy Family Hospital (HFH) who wished not to be named said there are only two thalassaemia centres in public hospitals around the twin cities. Pims has around 1,800 patients registered, while HFH has 200.
“Thalassaemia is a common blood disorder which is increasing in incidence. The issue is that people are not very aware of it. Very often, couples only learn about it when their newborns are diagnosed with thalassaemia major. From here, the real struggle starts as they must arrange blood every few weeks or months,” she said.
She urged the government to create awareness among people to get tested for thalassaemia before getting married to ensure that both parents do not carry the thalassaemia genes.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2013.