This post was written by Mumtaz Dashti in Urdu and translated by Salman Latif for PakVoices. An edited version is published below as part of a content-sharing agreement.
Pasni, located in the Pakistani province of Balochistan, has a population of nearly 100,000. And if we count the peripheral areas near Pasni, it goes as high as 150,000. For a town and a population this size, the health facilities available are abysmal.
When the residents of Pasni are in need of any serious medical help, they have to head out to Turbat, Gwadar or Karachi. From Pasni, it is 116 kilometers to Turbat, 131 kilometers to Gwadar and nearly 600 kilometers to Karachi. So while the local population has no access to any significant health facilities, they have to spend money and a lot of time to reach towns where suitable help could be had. In urgent cases, it often proves fatal.
Basic health units are meant to be the first stop for medical aid in rural areas offering rudimentary help, whereas rural health center are officially mandated to offer more advanced, though not specialized, medical help. When I spoke to the medical technician at Pasni Rural Health Center, he said that there are local civil dispensaries at Pasht, Babr, Char, Faqeerabad and Hari Belar areas in and near Pasni. He said that there is also a basic health unit at Kufr, Ban Belar, Bil Hadomi, Kocha and Kalag. However, there are no doctors in any of these establishments, neither are even the most basic health aid available in them. In simpler words, he says, these are just buildings and names which offer absolutely no respite to the health woes of the Pasni population.
I then briefly interviewed the vaccinator at Pasni Rural Health Center. According to him, there is one freezer available in the center to store vaccines, and whenever power fails, there is a risk of vaccines going to waste due to heat. He says that a deep freezer is also available there which would be more suited for storing vaccines, but the assistant district health officer does not permit the use of the deep freezer.
He further said that the rural health center has a power generator which could help, but it sits idle because of the unavailability of fuel. Similarly, the establishment also has an ambulance but it is dysfunctional because of no fuel. If any patient urgently requires an ambulance, he or she must first make provide fuel to get it running. According to him, the center lacks basic equipment and medicine such as the common pain reliever paracetamol, so to expect it to have life-saving medicine is hopeless.
The X-ray assistant at the center, Yusuf Mair, severely castigated the assistant district health officer and district medical officer in his remarks. He says that there are no arrangements for X-ray in the center and the X-ray machine has been deliberately misplaced. According to him, the center offered support for procedures such as blood transfusion 15 years ago, but today the place even lacks X-ray machinery. He pins the blame on the lack of resources and corruption, and alleges that most of any funds that come from the government or a non-governmental organizations go into the pockets of officials instead of to the center.
Mair also bemoans the professional neglect of doctors and hired staff at the center. A dental surgeon, for instance, was recently posted there, but he runs a private practice in Gwadar and never visits the hospital. He added that the entire non-medical staff comprises of a single sweeper.
Zareef Baloch is a journalist from Pasni and is equally pessimistic about health facilities in the area. According to him, a medicinal quota for Pasni was established years ago under which non-governmental organizations such as Save The Children provide medicines at rural and basic health in the area. This is done in agreement with the government. However, he says the population has increased substantially, so the allocated quota is insufficient, and without many other key health facilities a handful of basic medicines does little to help.
Baloch also refers to a near-complete hospital in Pasni, being constructed with a grant from the Omani government: “It will be a 30-bed hospital and may finally provide some genuine health facilities to the residents of Pasni. Then again, it all depends on how sincere and honest the management of the hospital is.” Pasni, as many other areas in the Makran region, was once a part of the Omani kingdom and it officially came into Pakistan's possession as late as 1958.
Pasni has five private clinics. Four of these are run by current government officials, doctors appointed at RHC who are rarely inclined to visit the center. But even the private clinics are clinics in name alone and are so ill-equipped that nowhere in Pasni can a medical operation be conducted or a blood transfusion procedure be done. The hapless patients then have to rush to cities and towns hundreds of kilometers away whenever medical assistance is required. This has resulted in the loss of many lives, who could have been saved with timely medical help.
It is upon the government, then, to address the plight of its citizens and help save these lives. Pakistan plans to turn Gwadar into a Dubai of future, but areas like Pasni in the neighborhood of Gwadar look like medieval towns when it comes to some of the most basic modern-day amenities. Will the government change this or keep looking towards foreign messiahs to help solve the problems at home?