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Chitral hospitals ill-prepared to tackle pandemic

Gul Hamad Farooqi

CHITRAL: When my father fell ill, we took him to the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital Chitral where he tested positive for Covid-19. As there was no ventilator  in the hospital he was shifted to Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) Peshawar where he passed away, says Saud Bashir, whose father Bashir Ahmed was a social figure.

He narrates his family’s ordeal when his father was diagnosed with the deadly virus. Like hundreds of other people, his late father had to wait for the result of his test from Peshawar. 

Samples of suspected patients are sent to Peshawar for testing from across the two districts of Chitral as even nine months after the pandemic the government could not set up a testing facility in Chitral hospitals.

Though the DHQ hospital Chitral was upgraded to Category B in 2010, no additional rooms or other facilities have been provided in it. Moreover, three years after the establishment of Upper Chitral as a new district, the Tehsil Headquarters Hospital in its headquarters Booni is yet to be made as a DHQ hospital. 

Dr. Nisar Ahmed, Deputy DHO Lower Chitral, who also underwent treatment at a government hospital in Peshawar for Covid-19, also had to suffer the ordeal.

He told ChitralToday that the DHQ hospital Lower Chitral had four ventilators but they are not properly functional and that is why serious patients had to be referred to Peshawar and other cities.

According to Dr. Taseer Jamal, coordinator or Covid-19 in Lower Chitral, there is the risk of an outbreak due to the lack of laboratory for testing facility as doctors consider a suspicious patient to be isolated. Without it, such patients often mingle with others and can spread the virus.

According to Dr Taseer, the Chitral hospitals also lack fuel and other facilities for their vehicles. He said between 200 and 230 samples are collected daily in Chitral and are sent to Peshawar for testing.

It takes 12 hours to transport Covid-19 samples to Peshawar. The vehicle carrying the samples arrives in Peshawar late at night and the samples are received at Khyber Medical University the next day.

He said there is no shortage of personal protective equipment in Chitral but there are definitely some other problems. There are only four ventilators at the DHQ hospital Lower Chitral which are not working, he confirmed.

He said at present there are 65 active cases in Lower Chitral and the total number of positive cases in Lower Chitral has reached 859.

“We have so far tested 10,800 suspected Covid-19 patients. So far, eight people have died of the disease in Lower Chitral.”

Dr. Shehzada Haiderul Mulk, District Health Officer Lower Chitral, told ChitralToday that there is one DHQ hospital in Lower Chitral, one THQ hospital in Garm Chashma, two Category D hospitals in Booni and six rural health centers (RHCs) in Drosh, one rural health centre (RHC) as well as 19 basic health units (BHUs) else where. Moreover, there are 32 civil dispensaries. He said the THQ hospital Garm Chashma has been handed over to the Aga Khan Health Service under public-private partnership but there is also shortage of doctors there. Similarly, there is a vacancy for a female doctor in RHC Ayun.

He said the only post of doctor at BHU Bumburate catering to the whole Kalash valleys was also vacant. Similarly, there is no lady doctor in Category D Hospital Drosh.

According to Dr. Saleem Saifullah, Coordinator National Programme for Lady Health Workers, 105  posts of LHW are vacant in Chitral.

Dr. Shamim, Medical Superintendent District Headquarters Hospital Chitral, said there is a severe shortage of doctors at the hospital. He said it is the only district headquarters hospital in both the districts with 200 beds. There are a total of 106 approved posts of doctors, of which 57 have been vacant for the last 10 years. These include the current positions of 21 specialist doctors are still vacant.

“Most patients are forced to be referred to Peshawar because there are no facilities for cardiologists, neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, nephrologists, neurologists, etc. That is why we refer most patients to Peshawar,” he said.

He said that the vacant posts of these specialist doctors is also a major obstacle in providing health services.

According to Dr. Shamim, a lot of gynecological patients come here from both the districts which is why there is a huge burden on our gynecology unit.

“The HDU/ICU of this hospital is not fully operational due to the arrival of the second wave of coronavirus as we also have a severe shortage of trained staff, central oxygen plant, ventilators and personal protective equipment,” he said.

According to Dr. Shamim, most of the cardiology, nephrology, orthopedic, psychiatric, neuro and surgeon, skin, cancer and complicated gynecological cases are also referred to Peshawar from DHQ hospital. He said an estimated 70 patients are referred to Peshawar every month from this hospital. 

Prominent scholar of Chitral Dr Inayatullah Faizi told ChitralToday that his ancestral home is in Balim village of Upper Chitral district where there is no hospital facility yet. He said Upper Chitral is a  new district where there is no District Headquarters Hospital yet which is why most of the patients have to visit the DHQ hospital of Lower Chitral.

When asked about comprehensive health facilities and arrangements in Chitral, Dr. Faizi said a foreign-funded burn centre has been set up at the District Headquarters Hospital in Chitral to treat burn patients but the burn centre is not yet operational and does not have staff.

In Chitral, gas cylinder explosions often cause accidents in which people get burnt. Patients are referred to Peshawar, most of whom do not even come back alive.

 Social activist Inayatullah Aseer said a minor boy lost his life due to absence of oxygen in a medical centre in Ayun a few days ago. This shows the pathetic conditions of Chitral hospitals.

Shah Saud, Deputy Commissioner Upper Chitral District, when contacted and asked about the health facilities said that there is a shortage of doctors as well as equipment in Upper Chitral for which he has written to the provincial government.

He said that he demanded equipment for setting up an isolation unit, 20 beds, 20 oxygen cylinders to prevent the spread of coronavirus. 


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