Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust Hospital brings hope for women in rural Pakistan

Outside a hospital in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province in the northwestern region of Pakistan, women are lining up, despite the sweltering heat, to receive healthcare they otherwise could not afford. The saving grace? A dying wife's wish to bring medical facilities to the impoverished Pakistani made a reality by her husband.

Mumtaz Ali, honoring his wife's dying wish, built the Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust Hospital near the city of Mardan. The two-story hospital, designed by Ali's son, has treated more than 120,000 patients, of which mostly were women and children. Reporting for NPR, Julie McCarthy hails the Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust Hospital as a
"beacon of hope," particularly in an area where medical facilities are scarce. Women from villages several miles away arrived at the doorsteps of the hospital seeking the free basic health care offered there.

For many women in Pakistan, a trip to a medical facility involves far more challenge than scrounging up bus fare. Finding a decent medical facility presents an obstacle on its own, and paying for the expensive medical treatment presents another. On average, the distance to hospitals from most of the villages is
more than thirty kilometers. The distance for women in rural areas is even greater. Upon arriving at a medical facility, these women cannot receive proper treatment because of the conservative culture. Seeing a male doctor, for instance, is considered shameful, let alone undressing for one.

The culture in the northwestern region is quite conservative. Female patients, in accordance with the strict social code, refuse to expose themselves to male doctors. At Umrana Mumtaz, where the only female doctor has stepped down, the female patients have no choice but to see the male doctor. As a result, examinations are made over the fully-clothed patients. For pregnant patients, this also means refusing to receive a gynecological exam, which could reveal the health of her unborn baby.

Rural areas such as Mardan need more trained female healthcare professions. This could possibly account for the unusually high mortality rates that are related to childbirth. On average,
one in every thirty-eight women dies from pregnancy-related causes. Only 20 percent of deliveries are made by trained professionals. Another possible reason for the high mortality rate could be malnourishment. Due to the patriarchal structure in the rural areas, men's needs come before women's needs. Males, for instance, eat first and females eat what little is left. One doctor at Umrana Mumtaz Hospital, Dr. Qasim Nasruddin, sees thousands of cases where mothers are malnourished:
This is quite common. About 50 to 60 percent of young mothers that we see with children or young babies are undernourished ... or they have iron deficiency or they have malnutrition.
The Umrana Mumtaz Hospital is not alone in its endeavor to bring medical resources to impoverished rural areas. A New York Times article published in January evaluated a government program that trained "lady health workers" to treat the poor in rural areas, including Pakistan. The program aimed to educate pregnant women. In addition to offering medical advice and treatment, these trained lady health workers also instruct professional midwives on resuscitation procedures and hand out "birth kits." Researchers followed 50,000 households over two years and found 21 percent fewer stillborns and 15 percent fewer newborns.

While the numbers are encouraging, they confirm the need for more education in impoverished areas. Hospitals such as Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust Hospital are indeed a "beacon of hope," but they are limited in what they can do. Educating the impoverished would provide many with the ability to care for basic health needs or even with childbirth mortality rates, as the study above indicates.

Moreover, medical facilities need more female doctors or female trained professionals. If women are unwilling to fully expose themselves for medical treatment due to strict social codes, it hinders the efforts of hospitals such as Umrana Mumtaz.

In the meantime, however, the Umrana Mumtaz Healthcare Trust Hospital, armed with two staff doctors and the determination to help the impoverished, proves that a little bit of hope goes a long way.

1 comment:

Jason said...

We often take for granted the ease at which we can see a doctor, or even get mad if we can't get our specific appointment time. While living in a small rural village in Ecuador I got Dengue fever. I needed to get some simple blood work done and had to take a 30 minute bus ride through the jungle to a doctor that knew what to do. His "office" was a bamboo hut built onto the side of a run down soccer stadium. His exam light was single 90 watt bulb hanging by wires from the ceiling. I was a little nervous when I saw him pull the syringe out to take my blood, it looked like something used during the civil war. It all turned out fine in the end, but it was a stark contrast to the care I was used to and made me more fully appreciate the medical care we are offered here.