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The Pediatric ward in Shikarpur

September 14, 2010

Date: September 3, 2010

Location: Shikarpur city, Shikarpur district, Sindh

It was my third day in Sindh and I was in Shikarpur with the OffroadPakistan team from Karachi.

Who knew that I would witness one of the most appalling sights at a tucked away hospital ward in this small town famous for its Achar (pickles).

I was with the Offroader Taimur Mirza in his custom made green Jeep as we drove into the District Hospital of Shikarur. TM had a load of medicines which he intended to donate to the hospital. This sack full of medicines was collected by school children from Karachi who scavenged through their homes in search of unused medicines which usually lie around in every house until it’s discovered that they have expired.

As the pampered Jeep drove into the gates of the hospital we could see scores of flood affected IDPs camped in the front lawns of the old hospital building. The sight of people camped under the open sky with their livestock and little of what they saved from their drowning homes was quite depressing. But nothing prepared us for what we would witness in the children’s ward at the end of this road behind the main hospital building.

The flood water was still passing through the eastern parts of the Shikarpur District when I reached the area; this was almost a month after the flooding had started. Westward, Jacobabad district was still disconnected from the rest of the country via any land route. Shikarpur city was the first main city east of Jacobabad towards which the displaced flood affected had fled to.

The floods had completely destroyed 44,000 houses in Shikarpur district alone where 550,000 people were displaced (46% of the total population). The district had 308 registered relief camps housing 80,400 IDPs and several other unregistered spontaneous camps all over (like the one in the lawns of the hospital). Like any other frontline city of the flood affected region, Shikarpur had got more than its share of displaced people. The district administration was struggling to cope with the burden, this was evident from the informative session I had earlier today with the DCO (District Coordination Officer, the big boss of the district administration).

Just as the desperate IDPs cramped in relief camps, schools, parks, vacant buildings and open spaces for shelter; so too the families of ailing displaced people congested the hospitals, hopeful to get their beloved treated. With dwindling district administration funds it was simply impossible to provide relief to everyone. The DCO explained that the priority was to feed the IDPs (in Shikarpur dist. 40,000 people were being fed by the local government 2 times a day costing the DCO office Rs. 2.2 million daily). In turn the health sector had to suffer, there weren’t enough beds in the hospitals to accommodate the influx of patients and the rate of dispersal of medicine from the dispensary was much higher than that of replenishment of the stock.

I witnessed this first hand as I walked into an 11 bed room in the children ward of the Shikarpur District hospital. Each bed on an average had 3 patients, some had even more. There were children of all ages packed in the tiny space and they had all sorts of infectious diseases. The stench was so strong that I couldn’t even stand there to have a full look around the room. Some beds had sheets on them and others didn’t. The ones that had linen weren’t any luckier because it seemed they weren’t washed even after they had been urinated and vomited upon multiple times. How was anyone going to get cured here? Won’t these inhuman conditions worsen the conditions of the already fragile minors?

With a heavy heart and moist eyes I sank into the comfortable leather seat of TM’s 4×4 ride, I knew I had to do something but for now was unable to think straight. The sight had touched both of us and we preferred silence on our way out of the hospital. We drove past the front lawns of the hospital where the IDPs were camped under the open sky and where their kids played in the dirt with used hospital syringes.

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