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May 29, 2020

Centre perturbed at Sindh not using 950-bed ASH for COVID-19 patients

Expressing concerns over not using a major tertiary-care hospital in Karachi for the treatment of patients of the novel coronavirus infection, the federal government directed the Sindh administration on Thursday to immediately set up a COVID-19 ward at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital (ASH) to cater to a large number of residents of the city’s Central and West districts.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation & Coordination told The News that officials of the National Command & Operation Centre have expressed serious concerns over the matter.

He said Sindh Chief Secretary Mumtaz Ali Shah has been directed to take immediate steps to establish a COVID-19 ward with the availability of high-dependency unit (HDU) and intensive care unit beds at ASH.

Located in District Central’s Nazimabad neighbourhood, ASH is a 950-bed tertiary-care health facility catering to the needs of not only the Central and West districts but also a large number of residents of the city’s other districts, those of Hub and Lasbela in Balochistan as well as of the villages in the Kirthar mountain range.

The ministry official said that due to the growing number of COVID-19 patients with every passing day, the pressure on public and private hospitals is mounting, while several such facilities in Karachi have no beds left in their HDUs.

“The Sindh government is claiming to spend billions of rupees for the establishment of new treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients, which will take at least a couple of months, but it is not making use of the existing health facilities, which can easily help treat dozens of such patients.”

The official said that despite having at least three PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machines at ASH, the hospital is not even conducting tests for COVID-19. He added that provincial government officials have also been asked to make the hospital’s laboratory operational so that testing of suspected novel coronavirus patients can be started.

On the other hand, Sindh Health Department officials said ASH is run under the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and is being supervised by Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar. They said that it was the responsibility of the mayor and his team to upgrade the health facility for the establishment of a COVID-19 ward.

KMC Health & Medical Services Senior Director Dr Birbal Genani, who is yet to assume charge of his post despite being appointed a week ago, said they have not yet received any directives for setting up a COVID-19 ward at the hospital, but if asked to, they can prepare an isolation and treatment facility.

“We have only 18 operational ventilators at ASH, while 13 others are out of order, but they are repairable and, if fixed, can be used to save lives.” He said funds and technical support will be required to set up a COVID-19 treatment facility at ASH. He also said the hospital lacks a pulmonologist and an infectious diseases specialist.

He pointed out that nobody was hired after the retirement of the professors of pulmonology and infectious diseases, while the hospital also lacks trained and qualified intensivists and other staff. “Besides funds, technical support, intensivists, a pulmonologist and an infectious diseases specialist, we also require trained nurses, paramedics and technicians”, said Dr Genani. He added that a constant supply of personal protective equipment is another major requirement.

Replying to a query, he said he will also ascertain the presence of any trained pathologist or molecular scientist and technicians to carry out PCR tests, adding that the Sindh government is yet to provide them with the equipment purchased for a central blood bank at Gurumandir. “The equipment will also help properly treat patients of COVID-19 and other diseases.”