More vigilance after Imanae?

As a part of the medical profession, I am aware of the pressures one faces in the workplace. The emergency room is buzzing with patients round the clock, demanding treatment and asking to be prioritised. Often, patients expect doctors to be God-like, capable of diagnosing and treating the disease in the same breath. Doctors are also expected to provide medications that act more like magic potions than pharmaceutical drugs. In case a medical practitioner fails to do so, he or she is snubbed and pronounced a good-for-nothing. Of course, despite the high expectations, doctors make mistakes too, which in the medical profession can prove to be fatal.

The fact is, doctors work with a very thin margin for error. In Pakistan, medical practitioners have earned a bad reputation due to an increasing number of reported cases of negligence. Most of our hospitals lack proper equipment, and far too many lack properly trained physicians, which makes it all worse.

Recently, a nine-year old child lost his life during an orthopedic surgery. According to the parents, the child was in good health and walked to the operation theatre only to be pronounced dead a little later. I watched the news horrified and convinced that something had gone wrong with the administration of anaesthesia. This was later confirmed by statements from the hospital staff. Unfortunately, the report never made it any further than a news flash on a private television channel. The reason: the child’s parents were probably not influential enough and the matter was hushed without a word. Moreover, since this was far from the first incident of criminal negligence in Pakistan, it probably wasn’t news-worthy enough to keep on the tickers.

Then, on the second day of Eid-ul-Azha, three-year-old Imanae Malik was taken to the Doctor’s Hospital,Lahore, for treatment for minor burns. According to reports, Imanae was repeatedly injected with anaesthesia, and the accumulated dosage caused her death within minutes of administration.

Since then Imanae’s father has launched a campaign and accused the hospital staff of criminal negligence. The family has also taken legal action and is willing to proceed further into the matter. This is indeed a bold and much-needed step that could help to bring about a change and ensure that, in the future, matters such as these are handled with utmost care.

Accountability is the first step towards clarifying what really happened. Without accountability, it will be impossible to analyse the situation. Updates from the campaign sitesuggest that the committee has confessed to criminal negligence on part of the duty doctor. An in-depth analysis shows that the hospital authorities were completely negligent since the doctor accused was a part-timer appointed for night emergencies. The hospital authorities remain unaware of the person responsible for appointing the doctor involved in this case.

A look at the details suggest that this is a classic example of criminal negligence, an affront that should not be tolerated and instead eliminated through sustained vigilance in all public and private hospitals, and, in particular, emergency rooms.

Imanae is not the only one to suffer at the hand of negligence, and if we don’t take action now, such incidents will continue. Strict laws need to be implemented in order to make health professionals more cautious and to minimise the margin for error. At the same time, we must acknowledge that negligence isn’t intentional either. It is important to distinguish between taking a stance criminal negligence and persecuting health professionals.

I would like to take this opportunity to request that the people educate themselves, remain aware of their rights, and most importantly, stop expecting doctors to act like gods, because they are only human. Patients are also in a position to reduce the cases of criminal negligence. They should know that it is their right to demand an explanation about treatments and understand any complications that may arise from medications or procedures that are administered to their loved ones.

As a nation, let’s not trust blindly and let’s make an effort to report any incidents of negligence to ensure that no parent has to lose another child to negligence. Although we cannot bring Imanae back, our support will help educate people about their rights and make hospital authorities and health professionals more cautious about misconduct.

Post initially appeared on the DAWN blog

7 thoughts on “More vigilance after Imanae?

  1. You’ve shed light into a colossal problem that health care has become in Pakistan. However, prosecuting negligence will have little, if any, effect on the quality of life of most Pakistanis. Instead what is needed is a comprehensive and holistic health care system and policies that is proactive rather than reactive and focuses more on prevention as well as treatment.

    In Imranae Malik’s case in particular there has been much controversy. My condolences are with her parents, but one ought to look at the case with absolute impartiality. It is quite likely that in the course of the investigation we will learn that the doctors ‘killed’ her. Sadly however, no questions will be asked of how Imranae was able to hurt herself in the first place and why her parents were so insistent upon ensuring their daughter stopped crying despite the fact that they have admitted she had suffered a “very small burn.”

    If the doctors in this case are going to be hanged, as they rightly should, the parents’ too should be held accountable for their role in demanding medical services which were, in all likelihood, unessential. Putting the doctors on trial, while leaving the public to continue to behave with a culture of unnecessary medical intervention is mere hypocritical witch-hunt and actually detracts from a much larger problem.

    Currently Pakistan has neither a public health policy of great consequence, nor any semblance of a proper health care system that can efficiently serve the public. The national government, in consultation with all the provinces, must develop a holistic policy that addresses such issues as clean water, environmental deterioration, food security, and education in addition to an overhaul of the medical profession and allied services.

    Unfortunately, what we have seen instead from successive governments in Pakistan is the total lack of appreciation for the interrelatedness of these issues. Instead of making potable water available, the government cannot even maintain sufficient levels of irrigation water. On the environmental front there is a shocking lack of foresight and understanding, and environmental sustainability has been reduced to planting trees. The states of education and food security speak for themselves. Whereas the Armed Forces have been able to develop a good health care system, the government has been unable to replicate the same for the rest of the public.

    Countries like UK, Canada and especially Cuba are shining examples of excellent health care systems that can be followed provided there exist leaders with vision and the will to act.

  2. What about those clinical staffs they are running so many clinics in rural areas in Pakistan different cities , they Playing daily with precious, innocent, uneducated villagers life like a certified doctors on a daily basis.

    suo mai sai 80 beman pir bi mera Pakistan mhan

  3. It is indeed very sad and i have to agree with Sana about how we should not take doctors as God-like.. But we are helpless and completely at the mercy of a doctor especially in a public hospital…

    The profession of medicine has become a business these days.. Doctors are working in more than one hospitals, they finish one surgery and start the next tou of course this type negligence are bound to occur..

    Another person wrote about this issue, had an interesting suggestion to deal with this..

  4. I feel sorry for those people who got their loved ones killed in similar cases but didn’t have the capacity or the means to start a campaign like imanae’s parents did.

    They are slowly coming to light. But its sad, isnt it.
    If you are not that tech savvy to make a facebook group or make a website, or educated enough to take it to the courts.No one hardly takes a notice of whats going on- Including the media.
    I have been reading similar cases in the mainstream newspapers for months but not one of them generated this kind of buzz.
    Once again justice has only favored people who had the means,money and capacity to shout out and fight back.
    if you have been a victim and no ones taking notice then you better wait till someone important gets run over. Hopefully You’ll get your justice along with them.

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