There is nothing more stressful and worrisome for a parent than to see their child unwell and going through pain or trauma. But perhaps a little more distressing is that even though they are lucky enough to afford the best medical care available in the city, they are not sure where to rush off with a sick child on their hands and feel confident that they will get satisfactory treatment.

Last week, my two year old was throwing up endlessly and getting lethargic by the minute. Because it was evening time, the consultants that I refer to were not available and so I had to depend on the emergencies of one of the best private hospitals in Islamabad. Never have I felt as helpless and powerless as when I rushed her to the emergency in the awful traffic, cursing the leaders who have destroyed this beautiful city credit with the metro project.

Our first interaction in a hospital is with nurses. It is no surprise to anyone that most nurses in private or government hospitals have an axe to grind and do not believe in displaying their dental powers (in other words, smile), at any cost. One would expect a paediatric nurse to be friendly considering children are less tolerant of unpleasantness. And so I handed over my wailing baby in the nurse’s arms, who refused to smile or say a single soothing word before she did the basic checkup.

While I waited for the emergency doctor to arrive, I looked around at an unhygienic ward with bed sheets so unclean that it was impossible to use the bed. The nurse refused to sanitize her hands before the checkup and the doctor followed the same practice.

And so I watched as the emergency doctor took my little one in his care and started impressing me with his medical jargon.

His first suggestion was giving her an injection that immediately rang warning bells in my mind. Three year old Imanae Malik came to my mind, whose life had ended due to the negligence and ignorance of emergency doctors at one of the most expensive hospitals in Lahore. Unfortunately, the emergency doctors at our private set ups are poorly qualified because their appointments are mostly due to some favor and less due to their competence. Uneasy with his course of treatment, I had to take matters in my own hands. I was then on the phone calling various paediatricians who I had lined up for such times to guide me so I could further guide the doctor on which course of treatment to take. They suggested we get my daughter admitted as she was dehydrated but looking at the emergency ward conditions, I was reluctant in having her admitted to the hospital.

The purpose of narrating what happened is just to throw some light on private hospitals in Pakistan. It is so disheartening to see that these hospitals which mint so much money, are no better than government hospitals. A basic thing such as cleanliness, which is so crucial in a hospital and so easy to maintain, is not paid attention to. Especially for a children’s ward, it is so crucial to have a healthy and clean environment.

Our private hospitals, which charge you an arm and a leg, are no better. Except for a few hospitals, most do not have any infrastructure and are in bad condition. The environment in the hospitals is unhygienic and bad for patients. They do not hire doctors and nurses on merit. The equipments and tools used for surgeries are outdated and of poor quality. There is such dire need for a children’s hospital but at the least, decent children’s wards in hospitals are a necessity.

Every minute counts in an emergency and every citizen deserves affordable healthcare. I really wonder why health insurance provided by the government is such an impossibility in Pakistan. Every child up to the age of 18 deserves free healthcare and only those doctors, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals should be allowed to work which have been granted a license. Unfortunately, Pakistan has too many important battles to fight and making roads seems to be more important than building hospitals. It is our right to have basic healthcare, but we belong to a country where the value of human life is diminishing by the minute.