Yearly Archives: 2018

Rape without end

By Zubeida Mustafa

OF all the crimes committed against children — especially the daughters of the poor in Pakistan — the most horrendous is the trafficking of girls. It is more agonising than rape. The sex trade amounts to torture. The girls who are snatched and taken away to be sold into forced prostitution have to live with this hideous evil night after night. Only a few lucky ones manage to escape or are rescued. Continue reading Rape without end

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Learning Sindhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOR decades, I faced a dilemma. Living in Sindh, I wanted to learn the Sindhi language to enable myself to speak to the people here in their own language. They had welcomed my parents and me when we migrated to this land of the Sufis.

In Karachi, a cosmopolitan city and home to numerous foreign consulates, I could try my hand at French, German and Persian. There are many other languages you can learn in this city. But there was no place where I could go to learn Sindhi. Teaching Sindhi free of charge should have been the job of the Sindh government’s department of culture. But it never cared. Nor does it do so today.

When the language riots of 1972 were followed by the education policy that required every student to study Sindhi and Urdu, irrespective of his or her mother tongue, I was delighted. To me it seemed that in a generation the entire educated youth population of the province of Sindh would be bilingual. To my great disappointment this did not happen. First, the nationalisation of schools — an excellent idea in principle but poorly executed with selfish intent — left our education system in the doldrums. Jobs were doled out to people who did not know how to teach. The enrolment rate never went up sufficiently to realise the dream of ‘education for all’. Secondly, the resultant influx of ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels examinations undermined the already tottering local exam system. That was also a blow to my ‘Sindhi dream’.

But I don’t let my dreams die easily. After repeated nagging by my Sindhi-speaking friends (which included the respected but outspoken PPP leader Ghulam Mustafa Shah, my neighbour at one time) I succeeded earlier this year. I received an email from a wonderful friend — also the writer of the foreword to my book The Tyranny of Language in Education — Dr Ghazala Rahman, the director of Sindh Abhyas Academy at Szabist. She informed me that the academy planned on holding Sindhi-language classes.

There is a need for linguistic interactions to bond people.

In May we completed level 1 — nine of us who made it a point to attend the weekly class for three months. There was absenteeism but not serious enough to disrupt the classes. Ghazala and her associates Sarang and Amin worked hard on designing the course and bearing with our idiosyncrasies.

By no means do I consider myself proficient in the language — I still have a long way to go. But wasn’t it Lao Tzu who said that a journey of a 1,000 miles begins with one step? Some of my classmates picked up the language very well and I am happy to know they are the ones who are working on the ground with the people of Sindh and this linguistic addition will serve them well. But what I found so enriching about this experience was how Ghazala took us through the maze of a language so rich in vocabulary, style, dictum and literary content and, of course, its greatest asset, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai.

But more than that, we learnt something about the social impact of a language and how every language has its own richness. Ghazala did it by contextualising what she taught us. Even the variations in dialects, usage and accent/pronunciations were sympathetically explained without showing any contempt for the ‘other’.

This approach is so important if linguistic prejudices are not to destroy a society. They characterise not only Pakistan. Most societies have them. These prejudices sometimes go so deep that people speaking the same language but with different accents tend to ridicule those whose speech is not similar to their own. These biases have existed historically. Who wouldn’t remember the language wars between Lucknow and Delhi? But such literary bashing should not spill into everyday life and vitiate people’s social and economic standing.

At a Yale University workshop, some academics looked into the issue of ‘linguistic prejudice’ that is defined as implicit biases against people who speak the same language but with substantial variations. The workshop sought to “expose this phenomenon, describe its social consequences, and propose ways in which teachers and learners can work to neutralise its effects”.

Giving examples, one teacher explained that objectively there is no correct way to speak a language. One form may be prestigious today in a region when it was less prestigious at another time. Besides it needs to be realised that speech variations should not be the basis of assessments of people’s cognitive ability and their moral character. They should not be socioeconomically stigmatised on that count. It is important that public awareness be created about the importance of showing respect for all languages.

Hence, the need for linguistic interactions to bond people. Sadiqa Salahuddin, who was my course mate, summed it up well: “Ghazala should be given the best award for enhancing manifold our love for the land, its people and their language.”

Source: Dawn

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Gift of sight

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE exercise in philanthropy about which I write today began 34 years ago. Two successful businessmen who were close friends decided to launch a project in their post-retirement life to serve humanity. Being compassionate, they understood the burden of disease for the poor in terms of financial costs and loss of productivity. Hence they opted for healthcare, which is the most neglected of the services sector in Pakistan. As one of them had lost his vision in one eye, a hospital for eye diseases was their natural choice. Continue reading Gift of sight

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Truth and Ethics Are Under Siege in Pakistan’s Media

By Zubeida Mustafa

Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who have been hailed for their courage in pursuit of truth within their countries and elsewhere. Click here and here for Nisma Chauhan’s coverage of other aspects of Pakistan’s media, produced in conjunction with this story. 

Starting in late March, Pakistan’s biggest television channel, Geo (an Urdu word for Live), was forced off the air for several weeks.

Cable operators, who reportedly shut off Geo, would not disclose on whose orders this had been done. Geo has now been restored, but only after what a Reuters report described as a deal reached with the military that required the channel to alter its political coverage.

This episode created an international furor, which testifies to the growing power of the media in a globalized world. It also suggests that in some countries where the military still calls the shots, the notion of media freedom is only eyewash. Repeated calls by PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) had failed to get Geo back on the air.In addition to having to skew news under pressure as in the Geo case, the media in Pakistan is not free of flaws itself. On several occasions, Pakistani media outlets have failed to follow simple codes of ethics.

Take the case of the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. He was shot by his own bodyguard. The reason? A progressive, Taseer had expressed sympathy for Asia Bibi, a Christian woman accused of committing blasphemy. Taseer met with Bibi in the jail where she was detained. He also spoke of the need to amend the blasphemy laws.

Some conservative TV channel anchors stirred up a brouhaha over Taseer’s actions. This proved to be a spark that lit the tinder of prejudice and intolerance encouraged by the right-wing media since the late 1970s when Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in a military coup in Islamabad. He launched an Islamization policy to sustain himself in power, with new blasphemy laws as an important element of that policy.

In 2011, the person who had easy access to Taseer—the man deputized to protect him—pulled the trigger. The assassination was a hate crime promoted by a section of the national media.

That was seven years ago. Today, the situation has further deteriorated. In the free-for-all atmosphere promoted mainly by television in a frenzy to get higher ratings, the major casualty is truth. Anchors, many of whom are not trained journalists, sensationalize news to the extent of presenting baseless reports as verified facts.

Take the recent case of Dr. Shahid Masood, a television commentator and a medical professional by training, who broadcast reports concerning the rape and murder of a 7-year-old child. Masood made outlandish charges against the defendant, Imran Ali, who has now been sentenced to death by the court. Masood’s list of charges against Ali was long—18 in all—and included allegations of the killer being linked to an international child pornography mafia, holding numerous bank accounts in the country and having connections with a federal minister. Mian Saqib Nisar, the chief justice of Pakistan, took notice and ordered investigations into the charges. Every charge was found to be wrong, causing the judge to impose a three-month ban on Masood’s program.

In a sense, these examples of rampant sensationalism reflect what a long way the media in Pakistan has come in the last several decades. The nation has experienced considerable loosening of the government’s grip on the press and the subsequent proliferation of numerous privately owned radio outlets and television channels.

Today the government has one television station, Pakistan Television, and one radio station, Radio Pakistan, but no affiliated newspaper. On the other hand, there are 45 campus radio stations, 140 licensed commercial private FM radio stations and 89 private satellite TV channels. The website of the All Pakistan Newspapers Society lists nearly 458 newspapers and magazines licensed in the country. Not all are being published; in some cases the owners keep their licenses valid to enable them to publish if they so choose.

This unregulated expansion of the media—especially of the electronic media—has had a profound impact on the political and social scene in Pakistan. Technology, particularly the introduction of 24/7 radio and TV, has brought the media within easy reach of the people. Even the remotest areas are connected by radio, and in the countryside you will see TV antennas on many small, dilapidated houses.

The plus side of this change is that the government’s traditionally rigorous control over the media has lessened (although the military still wields power, as evident from the Geo closure). In the past, military governments dominated the press, and the government held a monopoly on the electronic media. Gone are the days when a phone call from the Information Ministry to the newsroom could blank out even the most important news from the newspapers. It was termed “press advice.”

But today’s media freedom has a flip side as well. Any journalist who ventures to disclose the ugly secrets of the powerful must be prepared to face the music. This can take the form of “forced disappearance” by secret agencies or a mysterious death. The more fortunate are simply hounded out of the country. It’s a small wonder Pakistan has earned the dubious reputation of being one of the most dangerous countries  in the world for media workers.

Equally harmful is the insidious damage that some of Pakistan’s media is inflicting on society and the state itself. This reflects the emergence of neoliberal economics, the push toward commercialization and the prioritization of profits. Codes of conduct and sacred principles of journalism, such as truth and fairness, have been thrown to the winds, and commercialism is rife.

Adding to the media failures, some anchors and media owners are politically aligned and use their positions to promote one party or the other. This has muddied the political waters and stoked hatred and mass confusion.

Although the major newspapers still enjoy a degree of credibility and provide in-depth analysis, they cannot compete with the electronic media in the magnitude of their reach. The literacy rate in Pakistan is dismally low at 60 percent, which gives radio and TV pre-eminence over print.

In this bleak scenario, valiant efforts are being made to address the problems. A number of media studies schools have blossomed, and their programs are benefitting many journalists. Among these institutions are CEJ (Centre for Excellence in Journalism) and IoBM (Institute of Business Management), which has a strong media department.

Another endeavor is Uks, a monitoring nongovernmental organization that recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Uks is basically concerned with the coverage of women in the press and television, as well as the number and status of females working in the media. Tasneem Ahmar launched Uks because she was shocked at the poor reporting on women’s issues and at the glaring absence of women in decision-making positions in the media. Through her efforts to support the cause of the quality of journalism.

Source: Truthdig

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Using the Media to Empower Pakistani Women

 

Trainees taking part in a 2012 workshop for female journalists in Islamabad. (Uks)

By Nisma Chauhan

Women are often ignored or portrayed negatively in Pakistan’s media. As one dire consequence, over the years media reports relating to women have reinforced Pakistan’s rape culture.

Twenty years ago, when women’s empowerment was not popular in the national discourse, one woman set out to change this approach. In 1997, Tasneem Ahmar started Uks, a nongovernmental organization that focused on reclaiming women’s narrative in the print media. She continues that work today with TV news channels, and she reaches out to a greater audience via Uks radio programs that boost awareness of women’s issues.

Her career in journalism and her newspaper reading made Ahmar realize that stories covering women were stereotypical and reflected the way Pakistan’s patriarchal society perceived women.

“I got a few friends together without any donor money initially,” Ahmar says. “What I would do each day [is] read a lot of newspapers, mark, cut and paste articles depicting the kind of coverage given to women. Then I started to reach out to editors with the clippings.”

She wanted to contact as many editors as she could, but she kept away from those reputed to blackmail critics and engage in other harmful practices. So she focused only on a few editors, and when they were persuaded to adopt a more woman-friendly approach, others followed suit.

Ahmar conducted training courses for reporters and subeditors. Initially the training focused on a few basic questions: Why were negative headlines given to stories on women? For example, some headlines highlighted women’s smoking habits. Prominent women, such as the late lawyer and rights activist Asma Jahangir, were often shamed for smoking.

Attitudes in news stories also encouraged Pakistan’s rape culture. Newspapers sensationalized “honor killings,” as they reported on the murders of females by their own relatives, who felt the women—even if they had been raped—had brought dishonor to their families.

News articles blamed women for horrendous incidents as well. “When they [the Urdu press] would report on a body of a newborn found in a garbage dump, they would invariably dub it ‘the sin of an unwed mother lying in the garbage,’ and I would ask how did they know that it was an unwed mother,” Ahmar says. “Why didn’t they ask about the father? Why wasn’t the blame shared?”

The questions raised during training sessions gradually helped bring about change. “When we did a comparative analysis on what we were doing and if it had any impact, we saw that headlines in most newspapers would now read ‘a body of a newborn found,’ Ahmar says. “There would be no reference to an unwed mother. We considered that to be a big success. At least the level of understanding of journalists was changing.”

To be allowed to speak in male-dominated newsrooms to men who resisted such arguments was a mark of success in itself. A change in mindset was finding its way across Pakistan, as trainings were held in conservative cities such as Peshawar and Quetta. Every city brought its own challenges.

Some trainees would question Ahmar on her “agenda” and ask who was funding Uks. She would invite her critics—journalists and agencies—to check her records. “Being transparent is something not a lot of NGOs consider to be an asset,” Ahmar says. “That is why we have a bad reputation in the media, [but] they could just come and look through my office whenever they wished.”

While her credibility grew and the small team of Uks research associates and project coordinators was breaking barriers, Ahmar’s work was far from over. The launch of 24/7 channels in 2002 made her realize that she had to start from scratch again.

“By then we felt that the print media was easy to tame. But now this new monster called 24/7 news channels had emerged. There were people who had been unleashed to talk to millions of audience [members] without any training,” Ahmar says.

The insensitivity these channels promoted was doing more damage than the print could ever do, so Ahmar started monitoring news and talk shows. Uks noted the problems and shared them with PEMRA (the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority) or with personnel at the channels themselves.

Uks recently launched the women’s media complaint cell, where viewers can lodge complaints of misogynistic content. Along with content monitored by Uks, complaints filed by the public are now presented to bureau chiefs or producers of channels.

Ahmad also reaches the public—especially people living in remote areas—through a series of radio programs. The goals of Uks Radio Projects are to raise women’s profile in broadcast journalism, create awareness of social issues with a gender perspective and bring about attitudinal change in men and women.

The transmissions air in Urdu, a language that a majority of Pakistanis understand. The programs advocate a pro-woman stance on issues such as honor killing, AIDS and the water crisis in rural Pakistan. For instance, the Uks team collected stories about women who travel far distances to fetch potable water for their families. These women face mental, emotional, physical and reproductive problems owing to a lack of clean water near their homes.

As she works to educate the public via radio, Ahmar is expanding her efforts with media sources. She has succeeded in entering into a discourse with the people behind the TV cameras, but she also wants to engage with anchorpersons. “I don’t think it is going to be easy because after [they] get this kind of fame and screen presence, it becomes difficult to bring them on board for any kind of sensitivity,” Ahmar says.

She is devising strategies to deal with all media platforms—for example, last year, Ahmar held a roundtable conference with members of the entertainment industry. While the response was positive, she knows she still has a long way to convince people that “a country’s media coverage is related to women’s status and development. Women are pushed back if the media doesn’t support them in a constructive manner.

Source: Truthdig,

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Training Pakistani Reporters in an Uncertain Age

By Nisma Chauhan

As a result, many who were not formally trained in journalism turned to the media for work. In the past, senior news staff had been available to mentor their younger colleagues, and apprentices or cub reporters picked up skills on the job. But with the boom in media outlets and subsequent lack of professional training and guidance, journalistic quality eroded.Concerned professionals now are developing programs to raise media standards and to help journalists succeed amid the pressures facing Pakistani media. Continue reading Training Pakistani Reporters in an Uncertain Age

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Education brings 180 degree change in lives

By Fatima Sheikh |16 May 2018

KARACHI: The occasion was the golden jubilee of the Montessori Teachers Training Diploma course in Pakistan. Sixty excited and smiling fresh graduates stepped on the stage to place tapers in a neat row, as a female voice introduced them as “the bearers of the flame of education” that have guided children through the ages.

This course is conducted in Pakistan by the Montessori Teachers’ Training Centre (MTTC), Karachi, The MTTC trains teachers to work with children aged between two-and-a-half to six years. It is the only training centre in Pakistan recognized by and affiliated with AMI, Amsterdam. The MTTC was established in 1999 and is governed by a Board of Governors. It is registered with the Government of Sindh under Section 42 of the Companies Ordinance. Continue reading Education brings 180 degree change in lives

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Desperately seeking donors

By Zubeida Mustafa

As the country teeters on the brink, many of the socio-economic and political evils of yesteryears are making a comeback in a big way. One of them is the reprehensible organ trade. Rearing its ugly head at the turn of the century, the sale of kidneys was somewhat suppressed when the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance was promulgated in 2007. This criminalised the sale of human organs and tissues. Thereafter, the opponents questioned it on several grounds, leading to yet another round of legal struggle.

This ended successfully with Parliament enacting the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act in 2010, amidst a lot of rejoicing. Its credibility was established when some rogue elements in the medical profession and their accomplice vendors were arrested. Thus, good was deemed to have won over evil. One didn’t realise at the time that this was a case of misplaced hope.

Some recent reports (especially two write-ups by Naziha Syed Ali) in Dawn made it clear that the criminals were back in business. This time they were careful and  avoided media publicity. The papers were not flooded, as they were a few years earlier, with images of rows of people in rural areas photographed with their shirts pulled up displaying the incision marks across their torsos – the tell-tale sign of surgery for kidney harvesting.

Matters came to a head when Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, director of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT),   wrote to the Supreme Court and drew its attention to what was happening, mainly in Punjab. In support of his contention, he sent the emails he was receiving from foreign doctors complaining about their patients having travelled to Pakistan  and having been trapped by the organ traders. They had returned home mortally ill.

Under the coordination committee set up by the Supreme Court, the SIUT organised a seminar and workshops last month to formulate recommendations to step up deceased organ donation (DOD). Dr Rizvi believes this  to be necessary to change the pattern of demand and supply of organs and thus the economics that drives the heinous trade. Since human organs are in short supply, they can be sold at fabulous prices to desperately ill, wealthy patients. There is grinding  poverty in some regions of the country, in many cases created by exploitative landlords and brick kiln owners, leading to the compulsion for impoverished people to sell their organs. There are also surgeons whose greed knows no bounds and they have chosen to forget their Hippocratic Oath to serve ailing humanity. These three factors have combined to give rise to   perfect conditions for the commercialisation of organ transplantation in Pakistan.

What is equally appalling is the minimal public awareness about health and illness and the general apathy towards the burden of disease among the people. It is only when a person falls ill that he begins to learn a thing or two from his own experience. With a media that has forgotten its key function of educating the people, it cannot be expected to take too passionately to  health education programmes that have little commercial value. This public ignorance provides the medical profession its huge clientele. The fact is that the burden of disease in Pakistan can be considerably reduced by taking a few preventive measures. Spread more public awareness about healthy living. Provide sanitation and potable water to the people. The healthy environment thus created will cut down the incidence of disease.

That would explain why kidney problems are on the rise in the country. Since the deceased organ programme has not taken off, the demand and supply gap has widened making organ trade  such a lucrative venture.

Will  this exercise of drawing up recommendations produce any fruitful results? It all depends on the will and the capacity of those working for the implementation of the suggested measures.  The transplantation law that was drafted by the late Justice Sabihuddin Ahmad is still believed to be a good law. Changes in the rules could finetune it further. As for putting a halt to the odious  organ trade,  the present law is sufficient for the police to take action and for the courts to act if they want to.  The crime is committed so blatantly, that concerned authorities can crack down on the criminals – even those with powerful connections – if they want to.

The SIUT’s conference and workshops, however, served a useful purpose in another way. They underlined the need to change our social attitudes and culture towards organ donation which Zehra Nigah, our top ranking poet, described as “Tuhfa-e-Hayat-e-Nau” (Gift of a new life) in the poem she recited on the occasion.

There is, undoubtedly, a need to create the infrastructure, train medical professionals in how to handle life-and-death issues, in communicating with the patients and their relatives, and also define, in layman terms, issues like brain death. The recommendations address all these.  Dr Rizvi also brought up the issue of capacity. He pointed out that  the existing number of ICU beds in Pakistan cannot provide sufficient organs – even if consent has been given – to meet the needs of the country. Setting up a centralised registry for donors and patients in need, would facilitate the smooth and efficient working of a transplant programme in Pakistan.  This can be accomplished by the numerous professional medical bodies, working closely together and with the government.

The real challenge is to create public acceptance of deceased organ donation. In this context, the recommendations for the media and for education campaigns to create public awareness and popularise legal organ donation, are most pertinent. Some suggestions for the media, such as integrating the subject of organ donation in TV plays and programmes and including the theme in school textbooks, has the potential to be effective.

The need is to analyse the basic factors that have hampered the awareness of deceased organ donation. Religion is no longer an obstacle. Islamic scholars in Pakistan, and in other Muslim countries, unanimously agree that deceased organ donation  is sanctioned by Shariah.

Superstition, ignorance and the fear of death that have given rise to a negative attitude to deceased organ donation in our society. People need to be told about death and grieving – especially of the need to talk about these phenomena. There is a need to help people see the beauty in the idea of saving lives.

What better strategy can be adopted than what the SIUT itself opted for, when it needed to popularise organ donation by living donors related to each other. Initially, this idea was too radical for people to accept. The battle had to be won if the SIUT’s kidney transplant programme, that was launched in 1985, was to succeed.

After the first few patients and their families had been persuaded to accept this miracle of modern medicial science, it became easy sailing. The patients and their donors became motivators for those who followed. The high rate of recovery of those with transplanted kidneys, along with the care and compassion the patients and their donors received, and the guarantee of life-long free medical cover, proved to be major incentives.

I remember Rasheed, Transplant Patient #1 who came from Azad Kashmir with his brother, who was the donor. They became the agents of change for patients visiting SIUT. There was Rukhsana, the medical student and Transplant  #9, whose sister helped her out. She went on to become a doctor.

Such cases became an inspiration for other patients and their families. There was a lot of interaction among the various patients and donors, but there were also the unfortunate ones who didn’t have a donor. How could their lives be saved?  The answer was:  by  deceased organ donation.

That is what the SIUT’s conference was all about. Pakistan has had five deceased organ donors,  now rightly described as  national heroes by SIUT. The first such donor was Naveed Anwar,  a student who was fatally injured in a  road accident. When he was certified as brain-dead by a team of neurologists, his family – progressive and enlightened – decided to fulfil his oft-expressed wish to be an organ donor if he met such a fate. Dr Razzaq Memon was another and his family also donated his organs in keeping with his will, in spite of some reservations from the biradari.

I mention these two because I have met their families and they have repeatedly endorsed deceased organ donation and their own role in the programme. And so it was that deceased organ donation made a debut in Pakistan. It should be noted that the first three donations were made even before Parliament had passed the law, which certainly helped in promoting the concept.

The inspiration provided by the five heroes, needs to be brought to the fore. The families should lead this campaign. They have experienced the pain of losing a loved one. They have also felt the inner satisfaction and peace that comes from saving a life. Their words will carry weight, just as the SIUT’s presence on a high moral ground in Sindh has kept the organ traders away from this province.

Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her i

By Zubeida Mustafa

As the country teeters on the brink, many of the socio-economic and political evils of yesteryears are making a comeback in a big way. One of them is the reprehensible organ trade. Rearing its ugly head at the turn of the century, the sale of kidneys was somewhat suppressed when the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Ordinance was promulgated in 2007. This criminalised the sale of human organs and tissues. Thereafter, the opponents questioned it on several grounds, leading to yet another round of legal struggle.

This ended successfully with Parliament enacting the Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Act in 2010, amidst a lot of rejoicing. Its credibility was established when some rogue elements in the medical profession and their accomplice vendors were arrested. Thus, good was deemed to have won over evil. One didn’t realise at the time that this was a case of misplaced hope.

Some recent reports (especially two write-ups by Naziha Syed Ali) in Dawn made it clear that the criminals were back in business. This time they were careful and  avoided media publicity. The papers were not flooded, as they were a few years earlier, with images of rows of people in rural areas photographed with their shirts pulled up displaying the incision marks across their torsos – the tell-tale sign of surgery for kidney harvesting.

Matters came to a head when Dr Adibul Hasan Rizvi, director of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT),   wrote to the Supreme Court and drew its attention to what was happening, mainly in Punjab. In support of his contention, he sent the emails he was receiving from foreign doctors complaining about their patients having travelled to Pakistan  and having been trapped by the organ traders. They had returned home mortally ill.

Under the coordination committee set up by the Supreme Court, the SIUT organised a seminar and workshops last month to formulate recommendations to step up deceased organ donation (DOD). Dr Rizvi believes this  to be necessary to change the pattern of demand and supply of organs and thus the economics that drives the heinous trade. Since human organs are in short supply, they can be sold at fabulous prices to desperately ill, wealthy patients. There is grinding  poverty in some regions of the country, in many cases created by exploitative landlords and brick kiln owners, leading to the compulsion for impoverished people to sell their organs. There are also surgeons whose greed knows no bounds and they have chosen to forget their Hippocratic Oath to serve ailing humanity. These three factors have combined to give rise to   perfect conditions for the commercialisation of organ transplantation in Pakistan.

What is equally appalling is the minimal public awareness about health and illness and the general apathy towards the burden of disease among the people. It is only when a person falls ill that he begins to learn a thing or two from his own experience. With a media that has forgotten its key function of educating the people, it cannot be expected to take too passionately to  health education programmes that have little commercial value. This public ignorance provides the medical profession its huge clientele. The fact is that the burden of disease in Pakistan can be considerably reduced by taking a few preventive measures. Spread more public awareness about healthy living. Provide sanitation and potable water to the people. The healthy environment thus created will cut down the incidence of disease.

That would explain why kidney problems are on the rise in the country. Since the deceased organ programme has not taken off, the demand and supply gap has widened making organ trade  such a lucrative venture.

Will  this exercise of drawing up recommendations produce any fruitful results? It all depends on the will and the capacity of those working for the implementation of the suggested measures.  The transplantation law that was drafted by the late Justice Sabihuddin Ahmad is still believed to be a good law. Changes in the rules could finetune it further. As for putting a halt to the odious  organ trade,  the present law is sufficient for the police to take action and for the courts to act if they want to.  The crime is committed so blatantly, that concerned authorities can crack down on the criminals – even those with powerful connections – if they want to.

The SIUT’s conference and workshops, however, served a useful purpose in another way. They underlined the need to change our social attitudes and culture towards organ donation which Zehra Nigah, our top ranking poet, described as “Tuhfa-e-Hayat-e-Nau” (Gift of a new life) in the poem she recited on the occasion.

There is, undoubtedly, a need to create the infrastructure, train medical professionals in how to handle life-and-death issues, in communicating with the patients and their relatives, and also define, in layman terms, issues like brain death. The recommendations address all these.  Dr Rizvi also brought up the issue of capacity. He pointed out that  the existing number of ICU beds in Pakistan cannot provide sufficient organs – even if consent has been given – to meet the needs of the country. Setting up a centralised registry for donors and patients in need, would facilitate the smooth and efficient working of a transplant programme in Pakistan.  This can be accomplished by the numerous professional medical bodies, working closely together and with the government.

The real challenge is to create public acceptance of deceased organ donation. In this context, the recommendations for the media and for education campaigns to create public awareness and popularise legal organ donation, are most pertinent. Some suggestions for the media, such as integrating the subject of organ donation in TV plays and programmes and including the theme in school textbooks, has the potential to be effective.

The need is to analyse the basic factors that have hampered the awareness of deceased organ donation. Religion is no longer an obstacle. Islamic scholars in Pakistan, and in other Muslim countries, unanimously agree that deceased organ donation  is sanctioned by Shariah.

Superstition, ignorance and the fear of death that have given rise to a negative attitude to deceased organ donation in our society. People need to be told about death and grieving – especially of the need to talk about these phenomena. There is a need to help people see the beauty in the idea of saving lives.

What better strategy can be adopted than what the SIUT itself opted for, when it needed to popularise organ donation by living donors related to each other. Initially, this idea was too radical for people to accept. The battle had to be won if the SIUT’s kidney transplant programme, that was launched in 1985, was to succeed.

After the first few patients and their families had been persuaded to accept this miracle of modern medicial science, it became easy sailing. The patients and their donors became motivators for those who followed. The high rate of recovery of those with transplanted kidneys, along with the care and compassion the patients and their donors received, and the guarantee of life-long free medical cover, proved to be major incentives.

I remember Rasheed, Transplant Patient #1 who came from Azad Kashmir with his brother, who was the donor. They became the agents of change for patients visiting SIUT. There was Rukhsana, the medical student and Transplant  #9, whose sister helped her out. She went on to become a doctor.

Such cases became an inspiration for other patients and their families. There was a lot of interaction among the various patients and donors, but there were also the unfortunate ones who didn’t have a donor. How could their lives be saved?  The answer was:  by  deceased organ donation.

That is what the SIUT’s conference was all about. Pakistan has had five deceased organ donors,  now rightly described as  national heroes by SIUT. The first such donor was Naveed Anwar,  a student who was fatally injured in a  road accident. When he was certified as brain-dead by a team of neurologists, his family – progressive and enlightened – decided to fulfil his oft-expressed wish to be an organ donor if he met such a fate. Dr Razzaq Memon was another and his family also donated his organs in keeping with his will, in spite of some reservations from the biradari.

I mention these two because I have met their families and they have repeatedly endorsed deceased organ donation and their own role in the programme. And so it was that deceased organ donation made a debut in Pakistan. It should be noted that the first three donations were made even before Parliament had passed the law, which certainly helped in promoting the concept.

The inspiration provided by the five heroes, needs to be brought to the fore. The families should lead this campaign. They have experienced the pain of losing a loved one. They have also felt the inner satisfaction and peace that comes from saving a life. Their words will carry weight, just as the SIUT’s presence on a high moral ground in Sindh has kept the organ traders away from this province.

Source: Newsline May 2018

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Food paradoxes

By Zubeida Mustafa

HAS the sight of a child scavenging for food from an overflowing garbage bin made your heart bleed? This is common in Karachi, where kitchen waste containing a lot of cooked food is thrown away. This child is one of the 31.5 per cent of under-fives in Pakistan who were found to be underweight by the 2011 National Nutrition Survey. Nearly 43.7pc were categorised as ‘stunted’. The figures are expected to rise in the NNS currently under way. Continue reading Food paradoxes

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A professional odyssey

Zubeida Mustafa’s book is not just for the practitioner and lover of journalism, it’s been written by someone who has worked on raising awareness about social issues

“I also discovered during this phase what the newspaper reader’s habit means. I had been told that it was one of the most difficult habits to break — even more than cigarette smoking,” writes Zubeida Mustafa in her almost-autobiographical book My Dawn Years — Exploring Social Issues. With her work as an editor and a journalist spanning more than three decades, and her columns continuing to appear to date, Mustafa, then, is also a hard-to-break habit for the Pakistani newspaper reader.

Continue reading A professional odyssey

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