Health minister accuses media of ‘misreporting’ as Thar deaths top 100
As the death toll from malnutrition in draught-hit Tharparkar topped 100, Sindh Health Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar said on Monday the media was ‘misreporting’ the number of children’s deaths in the high arid district.
Official estimates put the death toll around 112, with over 100 deaths reported in January alone, but Dahar maintained that the casualties were far less.
“Only 32 children died in the past month,” he said, adding, “Doctors in Thar are complaining that the media is reporting incorrect figures.”
Dahar said, “There are gynaecologists and child specialists posted at every hospital.”
He said doctors in Thar had been complaining about media’s reporting misleading numbers, adding that “one doctor in Thar has to do the work of ten doctors somewhere else. We should be appreciating their performance.”
Tharparkar Deputy Commissioner Khuda Dino Shoro who visited Mithi’s Civil Hospital recently said the situation was under control as the government had taken prompt steps for provision of facilities in all health units of the district. But, people carrying their ailing children to hospitals are complaining about a lack of proper medication, staff and related facilities. Villagers have also lodged complaints about unavailability of clean drinking water.
Civil society has also expressed concerns over the increasing death toll and the government’s failure to provide basic health facilities in remote villages of Thar.
The Opposition in the Sindh Assembly meanwhile raised hue and cry over the deaths in Thar. Slogans of “shame, shame” reverberated the House as the Opposition accused the provincial government of mishandling the matter.
Reports said health centres in drought-hit Thar have been functioning with minimal facilities and under deplorable conditions for the past many years. Over 1,700 deaths of children have been reported from Thar in the past three years alone.
Some 99 children have lost their lives due to the outbreak of waterborne diseases and a lack of treatment facilities. Officials lament the shortage of doctors, paramedics and health professionals. At least 300 more doctors and hundreds more paramedics are required urgently in the health units in Thar.
Currently, there are only 141 doctors and only 14 ambulances serving 265 functional health units in Thar. Out of these, the Health Department manages only 92 health units, including six rural health centres, four taluka hospitals, a few dispensaries and the Civil Hospital of Mithi. However, many others are in shambles. The government’s tall claims of providing healthcare facilities to nearly 1.5 million people are questionable, since many of these facilities are left closed and unattended. Dispensaries and basic health units (BHUs) are often bolted shut, and patients cannot go inside.
In some cases, patients are forced to sit on the floor since there is no proper sitting arrangement or furniture. The shortage of lady doctors is another problem for many villagers, especially women with young children.
Villagers across far flung villages of Hothiar, Malanhor Weera, Lakhmiar, Khakhanhar Bajeer, Bangal Rind, Sobhe Jo Tar and Sahooram Paro have made similar complaints.
Sindhu Gares, a nurse posted at a dispensary in Hothiar, said that due to poverty and malnutrition, most children, pregnant women and elderly have contracted various chronic diseases. Gares was posted two months ago at a health unit that had been closed until it was taken over by the Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS). Sat Ram Roopani of HANDS said that after the outbreak of diseases, 40 trained nurses and 20 additional staff were deployed at 20 dispensaries in the area to immediately treat children and elders.
The Sindh Assembly’s Monday session witnessed a rumpus on the issue of deaths of malnourished children in Tharparkar district.
During the question-hour, Sindh Health Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar told the House that the situation in Thar was contrary to the facts, adding that the Opposition was just making a noise for nothing. Dahar said that reports about deaths of more than hundred children in Thar were incorrect.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) staged a walk out of the Sindh Assembly after they were disallowed to talk on the issue.