The plaque on the old building of Shikarpur’s RB Udhawdas Tarachand Hospital, also known as Civil Hospital, says the facility was built at considerable expense and was opened on February 2, 1935. Almost 80 years later, when it was needed more than ever, the hospital failed the people of Shikarpur.
More than 110 people were injured or killed in the attack on the Karbala Moalla Imambargah on Friday. Only five of them found relief at Shikarpur’s Civil Hospital. The others, most of them critically injured and bleeding profusely, were turned away and sent to other cities across the province.
Thirty-four patients were sent to the nearest medical facility, Hira Medical Centre, located an hour’s drive away in Sukkur. Fourteen made their way to Sukkur’s Civil Hospital and 14 others travelled to Karachi’s Aga Khan Hospital (AKUH). Two of the survivors, Ali Muhammad and Ijaz Shah, remain in critical condition at the AKUH.
Hospital and health officials, including District Health Officer Dr Munir Jokhio and Medical Superintendent Dr Shaukat Memon, openly concede the lack of specialists at the hospital and its inability to deal with any emergency situation. “We only have one specialist here, and he is a child specialist,” said Dr Memon. “After the attack, we had to turn back almost everyone requiring proper medical care.”
The five patients being treated at the hospital give conflicting accounts of what happened at the Imambargah but none complain of the treatment they are receiving at the hospital. Karamullah Uraj, a peon at the hospital, fractured his left hand in the blast. In the bed next to him is his five-year-old son, Farman Ali, who has a bandage patch over his left eye. They, along with three others, are being treated at a minimal cost.
Storing the bodies of 57 victims of the attack was impossible for the hospital, whose mortuary has a maximum capacity of five. “Most of the people had to keep the bodies — or what was left of them — either in their homes or at the Jafaria Disaster Management Cell,” added Dr Jokhio.
The hospital has no surgeon, gynaecologist or lady doctor, and employs just over 30 doctors. The recommended number of doctors is close to double that figure. “One of the main reasons we are so short-staffed is that very few doctors want to come live in a small city like Shikarpur,” said the health office’s Dr Hanif Soomro. “They feel they can’t bring their families here as the schools are not good enough. And since almost all good doctors know someone influential, they are able to cherry-pick where they work.”
Dr Jokhio added that the hospital had to call for ambulances from nearby cities and districts, along with oxygen tanks, the hospital did not have any at its disposal. Outside the hospital, four ambulances — tyres flat and missing seats and equipment— gather rust.
The original hospital building has been left to ruin and a new building has been built on the premises. Here, cleaners rush about as a bearded man, Dr Murtaza Soomro, points to any spot they may have missed. Half the hospital is sparkling, while the other half is layered in grime and dust.
By the time Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah reached the hospital in the evening — more than a day after the incident — everything was wiped and cleaned. Perhaps even the blood on the hospital’s hands.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 3rd, 2015.
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