An old man waits outside the emergency room at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, Karachi. – Photo by Sara Faruqi/Dawn.com
Karachi, according to Mercer’s Survey remains one of the most dangerous and volatile cities of the world. There are many days when one wakes up in the morning and goes to work considering all will be good, however, the situation changes in two shakes of a lamb’s tail as the day ends, with reverberation of gunshots, attacks of armed assailants and torched cars ruling the city.
Things were no different on May 22, 2012. I.I. Chundrigar Road, near the Governor House, becomes one of the most affected areas under such situations, with unruly mob pouncing the police and authorities reciprocating their sentiments with the same vigour. However, based on what can be seen evidently during such processions, the main focus of the police force remains to protect the government officials and their offices. The general modus operandi is to barricade all the roads leading to and from such high-value target sites creating worst of the traffic jams.
The chaos and state of anarchy is so infuriating that one has to ask whether civilians and Pakistanis who do not serve the government are not entitled to the same set of protection rules as the rulers? Shouldn’t the law-enforcers focus more on channelling and mobilising the wounded to the hospitals in time rather than barricading roads which further disrupts the flow of relief work?
Whether violence or such incidences can be prevented remains an arguable subject. However, the protection of lives is not. Saving and protecting human lives is the most pressing issue that should be given immediate attention once riots break out. Pedestrians, participants of rallies, media personnel and other people who get injured during cross-fire should become the first priority of law-enforcement agencies.
According to Dr Seemin Jamali, Deputy Director of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), establishing appropriate chains of command in different areas and proper means of communication are very important during such situations.
“Firstly it is very important for me to highlight that we are not informed by the law enforcement agencies about such political activities. We have to stay glued to the television screens to see if something that might blow out of proportion is happening around the city.”
“On May 22, I saw the rally on a private television channel and alerted my staff. We received nine cases of gunshot that day and the rest were sent to the Civil Hospital but it does not matter how many body counts you receive it’s about mobilising the staff and being on stand-by so that precious lives can be saved.”
It is not only hospitals employees that come to know about the riots or any other incident from the media. We all rely on media for information because the information ministry, whose primary role is to broadcast strategic and critical information, plays a negligible role when it comes to dissemination of important information. From postponement of board examinations to the news covering natural disasters, private news channels are the only information providers for the masses.
Another important point which requires attention is assessing the capacity of different state-owned hospital that cater to victims of violence. Globally, rallies and processions are chaperoned by ambulances and police so that proactive measures can be undertaken to avoid any untoward situation — a practice which is unheard of in Pakistan.
“Daily, we treat around 1,000 patients on an average in our emergency room and our facility of 150 beds is more than sufficient because patients are constantly rotated or discharged. However, it is very important to understand that there should be a chain of command at the site of the disaster that directs ambulances to different hospitals,” added Dr Jamali.
JPMC can only accommodate 150 patients in the ER, however, the 151st patient is sent either to Civil Hospital or Abbasi Shaheed, which might result in severe blood loss or death in certain cases. The best way to avoid this is to divert patients’ traffic and maintaining a record of the casualties accordingly. There is an urgent need to follow this practise in Karachi so that more lives can be saved.
Unfortunately every government hospital is not as open and welcoming to all as JPMC. A senior doctor, on condition of anonymity said that, “Abbasi Shaheed prioritises treatment according to victims’ ethnicity and Pashtuns are generally never admitted in the hospital no matter how critical their condition is.”
It is simply ironical how we conveniently segment each other on the grounds of social status, political affiliations and ethnicities so much so that the need of saving human lives is not even considered.
Deploying security personnel at hospitals to ensure proper mechanisms might be helpful in solving the situation to an extent. A paramedical nurse, on condition of anonymity said, “There are times when political activists threaten us and we have to work with a loaded gun pointed to our head. Then again there are times when 20 members of a gunshot victim are creating hue and cry over the situation. How can one work under such situations, especially without protection?”
Losing a brother, daughter, sister, son, friend or colleague is deeply saddening, however, we need to understand that in our grief we jeopardise the lives of many other people who can be brought back to life, if given a chance. Ganging up on the hospital staff only creates problems and hurdles in providing immaculate emergency treatment to the patients.
J K Rowling very aptly said that, “Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
Unfortunate and pessimistic as it may sound but it is true that violence is inevitable in Karachi so the only solace is to save as many lives as possible. Proper management techniques and acquiring basic civic sense might be helpful in reducing the fatalities because it is time that we start valuing human lives.
I still foresee glad tidings and a tolerant society where people are not discriminated on the basis of their caste, colour, creed or ethnicity, a society where lives are respected and are given first priority and a society where a few dirty droplets of water are unable to contaminate the entire ocean.