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In Deadly Heatwave, Karachi's Citizens Adopt Neglected Government Hospitals to Save Lives

"Non stop heat stroke patients brought in to JPMC Emergency" Posetd on Tasneem Butt's Facebook page on June 22.

“Non stop heat stroke patients brought in to JPMC Emergency” Posted on Tasneem Butt's Facebook page on June 22.

More than 1,200 people have died after a record-breaking heatwave hit Karachi, one of the world’s most populated cities located in southern Pakistan.

Many of the 65,000 heatwave victims ended up in Karachi’s poorly run, neglected and under-financed government hospitals.

Temperatures peaked at 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) on June 20, the second day of the Islamic month of fasting Ramadan, when public eating and drinking is largely outlawed in Pakistan. There was also a power grid failure, making the city’s poorest most vulnerable to heatstroke and dehydration.

While temperatures have dropped to 95-98 degrees Fahrenheit (34-37 degrees Celsius), 2,000 heatwave victims are still being treated in hospitals across Karachi.

As images of Karachi's dilapidated hospitals overwhelmed with heatstroke victims started to circulate on social media and on the country’s many TV channels, dozens of Karachi citizens informally and formally came together to gather or volunteer resources at government hospital wards treating heatwave victims.

At Karachi's largest federal government run hospital, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), heatstroke victims were placed in rundown wards with out-of-service air conditioners, filthy bathrooms, and limited water supplies.


Yusra Askari, a journalist and activist, together with Imkaan Welfare Trust helped organize a donors collaborative to adopt Ward 5, which has 80 beds and treated hundreds of victims during the heatwave. Imkaan is a registered non-profit in Karachi that usually works to save abandoned infants, but with the heatwave, they felt it necessary to help out at the JPMC.

Their #‎TheWard5Project took over the janitorial services for a month in that ward. On June 29, Yusra posted about their progress on Facebook:

It's been a little over 24 hours that 3 teams of 5 janitors and 1 supervisor each have worked tirelessly around the clock to sweep, mop, broom and scrub Ward 5 in an attempt to clean it. New dustbins, bin liners and all, have been placed under all the beds in both sections of the ward and trash cans have also been positioned at regular intervals.10 pedestal fans have been brought in to cool temperatures in Ward 5 while a group of very generous donors and volunteers working alongside us are having serviced and repaired the existing air conditions (6 of which are now up and running) in the ward and are putting into place, new wiring to bring in additional units.

Jibran Nasir and #ElajTrust

Jibran Nasir and other activists with Elaj Trust, a young social welfare non-profit, mobilized to raise money for people vulnerable to the heatwave. They also raised awareness about staying cool through distributing pamphlets on and offline.

Nasir, who is a young Karachi-based lawyer well known for his anti-extremism activism, shot a video at JPMC showing the horrific conditions there that went viral on June 26. A mobile video shot by citizen reporter Faysal Mustafa Soomro, showing Jibran take the chief minister of Sindh to task when he visited the hospital, went viral as well.


“Hospital wards 6 and 7 JPMC including toilets being cleaned and maintained by our team as any Hospital ward should be.‪#‎WhereIsTheHealthBudget‬” From the Elaj Trust Facebook page.

Elaj Trust rallied to gather funds to help fix Ward 6 and 7 of JPMC, assist at Civil Hospital, another neglected government facility, and provide bottled water and shaded areas across the city during Ramadan. Within four days they raised 9 million rupees ($88,000) and had to ask donors to pause donating, while they figured out how to scale to manage larger funds. Organizations like #ProjectPakistan also helped gather funds for Elaj Trust.

They are keeping the accounting of donations transparent through their Facebook page. Going through Jibran Nasir's timeline, you can see how quickly the organization identified and rallied support for the most pertinent problems:

JDC Welfare

Non-profit organization Jafaria Disaster Management Cell, also known as JDC, swung into action as early as June 20. JDC runs an ambulance network in Karachi and helps in rehabilitation efforts after disasters. They released a video on June 22 detailing the breakdown of healthcare in Karachi on their popular Facebook page, where they have more than 100,000 fans and primarily post in Urdu. Their video has been viewed more than 2.5 million times, shared tens of thousands of times and has helped raise awareness about the crisis. Here's a translated excerpt from the video:

We think it is our civic responsibility to tell you what happened after temperatures hit 45 degrees C in Karachi. Karachi's hospitals were soon full, all government hospitals declared an emergency, the ambulance system broke down, and all of Karachi's graveyards put a block on receiving more dead bodies, because their existing system was overwhelmed. They did not have enough people to dig graves and enough spots to bury people. Even morgues cannot accommodate any more dead bodies.

[…] If you have a plot of land where we can set up a cold storage facility please get in touch. We are trying to increase our ambulance capacity too. Please help.”

Within days JDC established a free temporary morgue for heatwave victims.  

Many more working on the ground

Karachi Relief Trust, a group of “civic-minded volunteers working together to mitigate the effects of natural and man-made disasters”, is helping at JPMC too. They posted this photo to their Facebook page:

"Stretchers were in short supply. Got these through a silent donor with efforts of our champion volunteer Fahad Asadullah"

“Stretchers were in short supply. Got these through a silent donor with efforts of our champion volunteer Fahad Asadullah”

Healers, another group of volunteers, showed up at JPMC and Civil Hospital, with stocks of medicines, bed sheets, and IV-stands.

And many citizens just organized informal donation drives through their Facebook pages. Posts by Natasha Mustafa and Tasneem Butt about the conditions and needs at JPMC were shared widely and resulted in dozens of volunteers making a difference. Natasha Mustafa posted this on June 26:

Received thousand plus Kinley mineral water bottles from Coca Cola Pakistan yesterday for the patients at Jinnah Hospital. Immensely thankful to Coca Cola for sponsoring. Thank you Sabeen F. Haque and Jehan Ara for making this possible. Also received a stock of 250 bedsheets for the Emergency Department. It's commendable how you reached out to help Jinnah Hospital and various other hospitals across the city at such a critical time.

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