Pakistan

Pakistan: Poor health facilities exacerbate bomb tolls

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PESHAWAR, 5 January 2010 (IRIN) - The death toll from bombings across Pakistan in recent months has been exacerbated by the lack of health facilities, especially in rural areas, health officials say.

At least 1,180 people died in bomb blasts across Pakistan in 2009.

Some 79 of these bombings were suicide attacks, with most of them taking place in conflict-ravaged North West Frontier Province (NWFP), where the army continues to battle militants.

Two days after a suicide bombing that killed 105 people in Lakki Marwat District in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Hasan Marwat, 25, knows he is lucky to be alive.

"I lay on the field where the blast took place for nearly an hour. Because I was slipping in and out of consciousness, people thought I was dead and left me there," he told IRIN from District Headquarters Hospital in neighbouring Bannu District, where he is now recovering from leg fractures in both limbs and head injuries.

The suicide bombing of a volley-ball game in the tiny village of Shah Hassankhel, close to Lakki Marwat town, was the worst attack in the province since a blast at a market in Peshawar in October 2009 killed 117 people.

The lack of a hospital or basic health facilities in Shah Hassankhel village added to the suffering of the hundreds of victims. According to official figures, there is one bed for every 1,517 people in Pakistan; and one for every 1,654 in NWFP.

But in many villages, such as the one affected by the latest blast, there are virtually no facilities at all.

"There is no major hospital here where people could be taken. There are very few doctors of any kind and no ambulances, so until some arrived from neighbouring areas people had to be moved by private vehicle, and by untrained local people," said Aziz Marwat, a student.

Most of the injured were rushed to the small Lakki Marwat Civil Hospital, a 30-minute drive from the village.

"We saw terrible sights. Almost everyone brought in had been badly injured. Some had limbs torn off. It was awful," Ghulam Ali Khan, a medical superintendent at the hospital, told IRIN. He and a team of seven doctors worked to save as many as possible of the more than 100 patients brought in, until medical teams were sent in by the NWFP government from neighbouring districts.

"Better facilities could have saved my nephew"

"The doctors who were available did their best, but perhaps better facilities could have saved my nephew, who died. He was just 18 years old and had gone to watch the volleyball game," Abdul Khan, 50, said.

"It is hard even to find a doctor to treat a child who is sick, let alone deal with a calamity like this," said Zareen Bibi, a Lakki Marwat resident. "All we have here are a few measly clinics which lack medicines or basic facilities, so how can they cope with attacks such as these?"

Pakistani Health Minister Ejaz Hussain Jhakrani told the media in Islamabad in October 2009 that "providing facilities for health to everyone in the country was a priority" but Pakistan spends just 2 percent of its gross domestic product on health - one of the lowest rates in the world.

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