MULTAN-The traditional Chand Raat (moon night) festivities were underway when Hazrat Bibi, wife of Qari Abdul Ghafoor, a prayer leader at a mosque in Chowk Sarwar Shaheed, a remote village of Muzaffargarh district, felt labour pains.

Qari, already father of five girls, was highly excited as a recent ultrasound scan disclosed that his wife was expecting quintuplets, out of which three were baby boys and two girls. 

But the couple never knew it was the beginning of a long ordeal, which would leave scars on their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives. 

Hazrat Bibi gave birth to five premature babies on Eid day, 2nd of September, out of which three have so far lost their lives while two are alive.

“Doctors are responsible for the deaths of my kids. First they denied my wife admission to all public and private hospitals during her highly critical labour condition and then they refused to admit my new-born quintuplets,” blamed Qari while Talking to The Nation.

After having denied treatment and consequently losing three children — Abdullah, Muhammad and Sahra — in Multan, Qari travelled all the way to Toba Tek Singh district along with the remaining two kids — Ahmad and Zahra — to a charity hospital where they were placed in incubators in neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They are stable now.

Doctors across the world believe the chances of conceiving quintuplets are one in 50 million, making Hazrat Bibi and Qari Abdul Ghafoor a very special couple. But local doctors used quints as a pretext to refuse the family access to healthcare facilities, putting the lives of both mother and children in jeopardy.

A study published in The Lancet Medical Journal last year disclosed that Pakistan is ranked among the top ten countries in the world with the highest infant deaths, mainly because of poor or missing healthcare facilities. Similarly, a United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report on state of children in Pakistan 2014 also points out that one in every 14 Pakistani children (7.1%) die before his or her first birthday, and one in every 11 (9.1%) do not survive to his or her fifth birthday.

District government sources revealed that an inquiry on the order of Deputy Commissioner Nadir Chattha is also underway in connection with the babies’ deaths and the report is likely to be submitted within a week. “The two-member inquiry committee comprising Malik Muhammad Shafiq, Additional Deputy Commissioner (HQ), and Mubashir Rehman, AC City, is investigating into the matter. “The committee has been tasked with submit a report along with recommendations within seven days,” sources pointed out.

The ill-fated couple went to at least five big public and private hospitals of Muzaffargarh and Multan twice — first on the night before Eidul Azha and then on Eid day — but the woman, who was in severe labour pains, was denied admission.  “We went to local hospital in Chowk Sarwar Shaheed, Tayyeb Erdogan Hospital Muzaffargarh, Nishtar Hospital Multan, CMH Multan and City Hospital Multan but all of them showed us the door, saying no senior doctor was available to handle the case,” said Qari while narrating his ordeal.

He said that eventually he returned home, performed the ritual of Qurbani, as it was Eid day, and again returned to Tayyeb Erdogan Hospital, but to no avail. “They sent us back again. We went to Muzaffargarh District headquarters Hospital where my wife gave birth to quintuplets in a normal delivery,” he informed.

However, an even tougher part of Qari’s trouble begun from the delivery of babies. Each of the quints weighed 1.2 kg and they need immediate care at a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), which was missing at Muzaffargarh DHQ hospital.

“I kept running from pillar to the post for 36 consecutive hours with my quints, all in a critical condition, to get them admitted to any NICU, but to no avail. Doctors at Nishtar and Children Complex Hospitals flatly refused to admit my kids, saying they did not have any incubators vacant,” he regretted while recalling his ordeal.

“I waited in the lawn of Children Hospital for three hours with all five babies in my lap in critical condition, waiting for doctors’ response. They returned with a weird offer, which too they withdrew after an hour, asking me to admit two babies here and take the remaining three to any other hospital,” the dejected father revealed. He said that he also went to a private hospital on Abdali Road, who demanded Rs1.8 million for one month treatment.

In response to the accusations of Qari, the Medical Superintendent of Children Complex Hospital Dr Shahid said that a person namely Hayat Khan contacted DMS of the hospital and asked him to admit five newborn babies of Hazrat Bibi. He claimed there was space for only two children available in the hospital at that time so the man was asked to bring two children but he insisted that all five babies should be admitted altogether. He claimed that the man went away and did not return. “Even we contacted Qari Abdul Ghafoor and asked him to join the inquiry but he refused to participate,” he added. He claimed that there was no proof regarding negligence on part of any staff member of Children Complex Hospital.

On the other hand, the poor father returned to Chowk Sarwar Shaheed and started treatment of the quintuplets at his home. A local doctor was called who put all the babies on oxygen support. However, the doctor advised the parents to take the babies to hospital as soon as possible.

“After a great deal of efforts, the Nishtar Hospital administration accepted political safarish and admitted my quints to Ward No-19 on September 4. Three of them were put in incubators while two others in nursery,” he recalled, adding that after giving treatment for about 15 hours, the doctors at Nishtar started asking him to take the babies to Children Complex. In the meantime, one baby expired on September 7 and other on 9th, the ones who were in nursery without incubators. “Finally, we were asked to vacate incubator on which we left the hospital and returned home. Another baby expired during this process. I’ll never forget callous behaviour of medics,” he lamented.

However, Dr Nadir Bashir, Admn. Registrar of NICU, Nishtar Hospital, contradicted the allegations levelled by Qari Ghafoor and claimed that all the babies were entertained as serious patients, who were discharged on request of their father. In a written statement submitted by him during inquiry, he stated that the babies were admitted with the complaints of prematurity i.e 30 weeks and two babies were seriously ill who, inspite of all efforts, expired. He added that all the babies were examined by Professor, Assistant Professor and senior registrar on daily basis and written advices were available in the chart and progress sheet.    

Declaring the deaths of newborns due to unavailability of healthcare facilities a complete failure of health system, Shahid Mahmood Ansari, District coordinator of The Child Rights Committee (CRC), a non-profit body working for kids, said that a comparison of budgetary allocations for metros with the funds for health projects spoke volumes of rulers’ priorities. “Women and children are dying due to unavailability of healthcare infrastructure. Children Complex hospital extension project, which is incomplete for about one decade, cancer hospital, kidney centre are biggest examples of government’s disinterest in citizens lives,” he maintained. He noted that the death ratio of newborn babies in South Punjab is much higher than other parts of the country. “It’s because of missing maternity and childcare facilities. We strongly condemn government’s negligence and demand funds for Children Complex and other incomplete health projects. We also demand a strict action against the doctors responsible for the death of three babies of Qari,” he demanded.

Multan Deputy Commissioner Nadir Chattha, while talking to this reporter, said that he had taken notice of the issue and had initiated an inquiry. “We have sought explanations from the medical superintendents of Nishtar and Children Complex Hospitals. Their response is not satisfactory. So, we have constituted a two-member committee to hold an inquiry and submit its report and recommendations in seven days,” he revealed.