The callous disregard for life that the doctors at civil hospital in Umerkot showed the other day is hard to believe. According to press reports, a 28-year-old sanity worker, Irfan Masih, had fallen unconscious from inhaling poisonous gas while cleaning a sewer line inside a manhole. He was brought to the hospital where he died because the doctor on duty would not check him as he was covered in filth while cleaning the filth of others, including probably that of the doctor who refused to touch him unless washed, saying he was fasting. None of the other three doctors present would do their duty, either. The excuse does no service to the religion that lays immense emphasis on sanctity of life and compassion, nor the oath all members of the medical profession take at the time of admittance into the profession to protect human life in all stages and “under all circumstances”, and extend medical care “to near and far, virtuous and sinners and friends and enemy.”
The tragic incident would have gone unnoticed and unpunished but for the efforts of the victim’s family. Following the young man’s death, his distraught relatives joined by some others took his body to the local press club to hold an eight-hour long protest sit-in in Umerkot’s scorching heat. That helped them to register a case against the accused doctors for their refusal to give necessary treatment to the patient. The medical superintendent was arrested and an FIR registered against his three colleagues. Sadly, however, for the office-bearers of the local chapter of the Pakistan Medial Association, it was more important to protect their professional colleagues than to uphold the ethical principles of their profession. They staged a protest demonstration against the arrest and registration of cases, threatening to boycott the OPD as well as emergency services. The authorities concerned must not allow themselves to be browbeaten by these people. Things will not improve unless those guilty of criminal negligence get their due.
A case was also registered against the local municipal authorities for failure to provide Irfan and three other sanitary workers who too had fallen unconscious, one by one, while mounting a rescue effort without necessary protective gear. Somehow, all four were taken out by the area’s people. While Irfan died the other three workers were referred to a Hyderabad hospital in a critical condition. Even if they survive, that would not be without serious damage to their health. Unfortunately, this is not the first case of its nature. Sanity workers can be seen in all cities going into manholes almost naked and getting covered all over in sewage which exposes them to all sorts of bacterial infections as well as poisonous gases. At least two workers are reported to have died during the last five years in such incidents. This must stop. All provincial governments ought to ensure those unclogging sewers are equipped with necessary protective clothing and gas masks.