KARACHI – Last year, the Scottish government donated to the Sindh health department seven mobile breast cancer screening units, but not only have the provincial authorities squandered the equipment worth Rs2 billion, they have also deprived thousands of rural women of a vital facility.
The units were promised by the NHS Scotland in the presence of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah at a ceremony held at the Federation House in Karachi. The Sindh government had even paid Rs20 million as freight charges to ship the containers to Karachi; they were then dumped by health authorities in New Karachi and Gadap areas.
However, a few months ago four of the units were given to the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases after some officials of the hospital spotted them and requested the Sindh government to hand them over to NICVD, an official of the health department told The News.
The NICVD removed all the latest mammography machines, computerised analysers, besides other equipment installed inside the mobile units, and have since been using them as ‘Outreach Chest Pain Units’ placed at city’s various busy spots, the official further disclosed.
The fifth screening unit was handed over to the Radiology Department of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) to screen women, residing in the outskirts of the city, for breast cancer.
However, it now lies renamed as the ‘Rehabilitation Response Centre’, near the JPMC’s CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery department. The sixth unit was handed over to the Agha Khan University Hospital (AKUH) on the directives of Sindh health secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho on unknown terms and conditions.
It now remains parked inside the medical facility where technicians of AKUH’s Radiology Department are currently ‘planning’ on how best to utilize it for breast cancer screening. A spokesperson from the AKUH said they were yet to make use of the mobile screening unit as their experts were currently inspecting and trying to calibrate the mammography equipment installed inside it.
Not much has been made of the last unit either which is gathering dust and rust at New Karachi Children Hospital New for the past one year. The health department officials claimed it would too be handed over to the NICVD for the purpose it [NICVD] has used the previous four ones. ‘Against cultural, religious values’
As per Sindh health secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho, the units should not have, in the first place, been imported by the health department as they were useless in Pakistan due to local ‘cultural and religious values’.
“Our women don’t go to such mobile units for breast cancer screenings. These mobile units are against our cultural and religious norms and values,” said the health secretary. According to him, NICVD was making the best use of these units as hundreds of people were visiting them daily to get themselves treated for heart ailments.
As for the one unit handed over to the AKUH, the secretary said, “The medical facility would screen poor people ‘free of charge’ by using the donated equipment.”
In Dr Pechuho’s opinion, “If the AKUH is using the equipment for commercial purposes then it is the media’s job to highlight it and expose them.” Pointing out another ‘flaw’, he added that the machines installed in the units were analog and not digital, hence, were useless.
An official of the medical facility said the units were acquired by them because they were not in use, but now they are being properly utilized for the treatment of heart patients. “These units are helping in saving precious lives,” the official stated.
“We have safely kept the equipment removed from these mobile units and are planning on donating it to provincial hospitals whose managements would use them properly to screen women for breast cancer,” claimed the official.
Hundreds of thousands of Pakistani women develop breast cancer every year. Around 50,000 of them die annually mostly because the disease remains either undiagnosed or is diagnosed at an advanced stage.