Hyderabad (Agenzia Fides) - In the village of Achi Masjid, on Chamber Road, 40 km from the city of Hyderabad, in the Pakistani province of Sindh, the presence of this group of doctors and nurses is considered by the local population as a gift of providence. The team at St. Elizabeth Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Hyderabad, a center of excellence in southern Pakistan, thus carries out its health mission in the suburbs, thanks to the medical staff of Christian, Muslim and Hindu workers. The mobile clinic set up by the hospital visits the villages in the area, dedicating entire days to medical examinations, treatment, therapies, monitoring of the poorest population. The approximately 40 families (Christians, Muslims and Hindus) of the village of Achi Masjid have patiently waited for their medical examinations and to collect their medicines: "In this special health marathon a total of 391 people have been medically checked and examined, including women, children, the elderly, with flu disorders, but also dengue fever, malaria, skin diseases, eye or ear infections", explains the Australian missionary Fr. Robert McCulloch, of the Society of Saint Columban, who is President of the Board of St. Elizabeth Hospital. "This is our pastoral mission in the field of health: to care for the sick, completely free of charge, with the compassionate spirit of the Good Samaritan ", he points out.
The structure works in response to the health crisis, which has been aggravated during the years of the pandemic and is still being experienced in Hyderabad and the surrounding rural areas. Health infrastructures in Pakistan have been heavily affected by the pandemics, but "first of all, it must be remembered that the total health expenditure of the federal and provincial government of Pakistan, for some years now, is only 1.2% of the GDP, which is not adequate for a population of 220 million people", says the missionary. Although the country has health legislation that observers consider to be of a good standard, in terms of its goals and underlying ideas, state health agencies struggle to achieve the goals set out by the law on access to care, especially due to the scarcity of financial resources. Therefore, the application to achieve the minimum objectives of public health, in many regions and territories, falls to the private sector, including structures built and managed in Pakistan by Christian churches, of various denominations.
In this framework, the St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital, which operates thanks to donors and benefactors, makes its contribution above all to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 3, the one related to public health.
The structure, started in 1958, is owned by the Catholic Diocese of Hyderabad and operates with its own council, administration and leadership. It has more than 80 beds and, over the years, has specialized in maternal and neonatal health care. It has three operating rooms, an outpatient clinic, an emergency room and digitized X-ray equipment. It is known in Sindh as a highly qualified hospital in terms of health standards and technology.
"We work for the benefit of all ethnicities, cultures and religions, without any discrimination", observes Fr. Mc Culloch. In addition to ordinary care, the hospital promotes two special activities: the medical assistance program with the mobile clinic, which is highly appreciated in the area, especially in the villages further away from the cities; and a pioneering hospice home care program dedicated to the terminally ill – unique in Pakistan.
With its mobile health care program, active since 2008, St. Elizabeth Hospital provides medical services to more than 50,000 poor people each year.
"Doctors are concentrated in the cities. Access to basic health care in rural areas of Pakistan is limited; poverty makes it almost impossible", the missionary explains to Fides, pointing out the structural problems: the high population growth, unequal distribution of health workers, staff shortages, insufficient funding and poor quality of health services. The mobile clinic offers assistance and care "on a regular, professional, compassionate and free basis to many tribal or semi-nomadic populations, often farmers. The majority are Hindus, many are Muslims and Christians", he says, alleviating widespread health problems such as malaria, typhoid fever, gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections, anemia, jaundice, viral infections, dehydration, skin diseases and tuberculosis.
In the second specific program, through home palliative care, doctors at St. Elisabeth offer health care to cancer patients in the terminal phase: it is the only hospital in Pakistan that provides such care. The President explains: "This is free palliative care. It is a 24-hour emergency service. In recent months, we have treated 20 cancer patients in this way, 17 of whom were in the fourth stage. Our 4 nurses and 2 doctors have made 174 home visits, often riding motorcycles over rough, unpaved roads to patients' homes." In addition, "one of our nurses is pursuing a specialist diploma in oncology nursing in Karachi".
"Our mission - concludes Fr. Mc Culloch - is in tune with what the Holy See said on the occasion of World Health Day 2021: the goal is to fight against inequalities in health and guarantee access to health care, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized".
The hospital is specialized in maternal, neonatal and child care and assistance: in fact, the neonatal mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio in Pakistan are among the worst in Asia, according to the Pakistan Economic Survey 2020-2021.
In this situation, the hospital has also started a "School of Obstetrics", which is attended mostly by girls who, in this way, improve their socio-economic position by becoming professional midwives and, thanks to the path of human and professional emancipation, they in turn have the opportunity to assist and do good for the women of their territory. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 18/10/2022)