Sunday May 22, 2022

Neonatal ICUs

By Editorial Board
January 21, 2022

That public healthcare in Pakistan is not in good shape is old news. Despite promises by successive governments, no concrete improvement is visible across the country in the provision of free and quality healthcare facilities to all citizens without discrimination. Children’s healthcare is in an even more dire shape in government hospitals. Just to take one example, according to reports there is no neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) in public-sector hospitals in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. As a result on January 19, 2022, four out of six children born to a woman at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar are reported to have died of health complications. A woman had given birth to sextuplets a few days ago at the same hospital. Five girls and a boy were admitted to the nursery of LRH where there was no provision for an intensive care facility exclusively for newborn babies.

The question is not simply about allocation of a room and naming it an ICU, as many hospitals have done. It has more to do with specialised intensive care that must be handy for newborn children in every hospital that has a maternity ward. In a country where maternal and child healthcare is next to nothing in importance, malnutrition makes both mothers and babies vulnerable to health complications. Mothers who are mostly undernourished give birth to children who are even more so. If there is a well-equipped and functioning neonatal ICU, the survival chances are much better. Availability of experienced and qualified paediatricians in such ICUs also makes a crucial difference. If there are no well-trained medical and paramedical staff in ICUs to handle neonatal diseases, the parents end up looking after their babies on their own and that – more often than not – results in a tragedy. The situation in other provinces may not be any better either. This lack of adequate service must be rectified on priority basis and all district hospitals – if not at tehsil level – must have well-equipped and properly staffed neonatal ICUs.