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January 8, 2020

Sindh faces health crisis as hospitals running low on essential medicines, surgical tools

Karachi

January 8, 2020

Hundreds of surgeries are being postponed on a daily basis, as public hospitals and health facilities across Karachi as well as in the rest of Sindh are facing a serious crisis of medicines, surgical tools and other medical supplies, The News has learnt.

Patients, majority of whom cannot afford the cost of treatment at private hospitals, are being asked to purchase essential medicines, surgical instruments and other supplies from private medical stores and pharmacies in the metropolitan city.

“My 17-year-old son had to undergo surgery after his leg was broken in a roadside accident,” said Mrs Irshad, a widow from Orangi Town, who had brought her son to one of the leading tertiary-care hospitals being run by the provincial government in the city.

“Here at the hospital, doctors asked me to arrange each and every thing from metallic plates, rods and screws to anaesthetics, antibiotics, painkillers and even canola.”

Attendants of patients can be witnessed moving from one medical store to another in the entire city in search of medicines and other supplies, as all the major public hospitals in the province are facing an acute shortage of essential medicines, including painkillers, antibiotics, surgical tools and other supplies, which are the basic requirements for running even a clinic.

National Institute of Child Health (NICH) Director Prof Dr Jamal Raza also confirmed the unavailability of all the essential medicines and supplies, especially antibiotics, at his hospital.

He said that owing to the unavailability of medicines, parents of sick and injured children have no other option but to buy medicines out of their own pockets, and due to that they have been cursing the health facility’s doctors and administration. “We are facing an extreme shortage of essential antibiotics, which have been cleared by the authorities for purchase, but still they are not being supplied or allowed to be purchased. Without antibiotics, treatment of most of the patients is next to impossible.”

Dr Raza said that at the same time, the attendants of the patients are also being asked to purchase drips, syringes, canola and other related things.

A few metres away from the NICH, patients at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) have also been facing the same problems, as most of the drugs prescribed by the doctors in the outpatient departments (OPDs), wards and surgical units are not available at the central pharmacy of the hospital, and patients are being asked to buy or arrange them on their own.

A survey of different wards of the hospital revealed that the JPMC has been facing an extreme shortage of painkillers, antibiotics, injections, antipsychotic drugs, medicines for the treatment of cancers, gastric ailments and neurological disorders, and surgical instruments, with people being asked to arrange them from their own pockets.

“The medicine crisis has worsened now and become out of control for us,” said Dr Asadullah, one of the deputy directors at the health facility who deals with the procurement of medicines and supplies there. “Patients and their attendants have been cursing us for the unavailability of medicines and surgical supplies in the wards and OPDs.”

A similar situation has been witnessed at the one of the largest public hospitals of the province, the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), where the patients and their attendants have been clashing and exchanging heated words with the doctors and the administration over the unavailability of surgical tools, while many elective surgeries are not being performed at the wards due to the unavailability of implants, anaesthetics, antibiotics and other essential things.

“The situation is very grim at the CHK, as we are facing a serious shortage of essential medicines and surgical items,” said Dr Khadim Hussain, the medical superintendent of the CHK. “We have just become a consultation clinic, where doctors diagnose the disease, prescribe medicines and ask the patients or their attendants to buy them from the pharmacies outside.”

Sindh Health Department officials claimed that the crisis has occurred due to the government’s delayed start of the process to procure medicines and medical supplies. They said the process was initiated by the end of July last year and was yet to be completed.

“At the moment, the issue of procurement of medicines and medical supplies is with the complaint redressal committee, which is headed by the provincial health secretary,” claimed an official of the health department.

“Pharmaceutical companies and medical suppliers approach this committee to lodge their complaints if their medicines and surgical instruments are not procured or given preference despite being affordable and of international quality.”

Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho, however, blames the courts for the shortage of medicines and medical supplies at the hospitals, arguing that the central procurement committee has done its job properly, but due to stay orders, these supplies cannot be arranged for the health facilities of the province.

“The issue of unavailability of medicines at hospitals is due to the stay orders by the courts,” Dr Azra, who also holds the portfolio of population welfare, said in a written reply to the media.

“We understand that it is a huge issue for the hospitals’ respective managements as well as for the patients, as there is a shortage of medicines at government hospitals.” She made the assurance that “the central procurement committee has procured all the necessary antibiotics needed by the hospitals, and the health department has made sure that all the facilities have these available for their patients”.

As for the remaining medicines, she said that “they have been procured by the central procurement committee and will be supplied this week. All the details of the tenders and procurement can be viewed on the website of the Sindh Public Procurement Regulatory Authority”.