Dera Ismail Khan: Shama Bibi, a senior resident of South Waziristan, has been caring for women in my family and community with their prenatal needs.

“I cannot be as adept as a doctor and therefore I advise many expectant mothers to travel to other cities,” she said talking to Truth Tracker.

People in Pakistan’s tribal areas face unique indigenous challenges. Education, unemployment and law and order pose constant issues for the region’s population. Amid all these Health stifles most, as no maternity services are offered to the expectant mothers. Women in the region have long had to travel to farthest areas to get prenatal care, which raises their medical costs exponentially. In cases, such travel can endanger their lives.

FATA Secretariat 1998 census figures show the total population of South Waziristan as 429841. Women are 198761: making up about half the population with 1.95 per cent annual population growth rate. The difficult mountainous terrain and lack of transport networks exacerbates travelling for people posing grave issues for expectant mothers.

A senior official of FATA Health department, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed that South Waziristan’s summer headquarter city, Wana, houses a headquarter Hospital while 8 of its Tehsils, 6 have civil hospitals. The official noted that none of the hospitals have a female gynecologist for the last decade. He further said that each of the six tehsil hospitals have one female doctor’s vacancy but when a female doctor arrives, she quickly opts for a transfer or goes for professional courses.

The official also admitted that the lack of basic living facilities are a major detriment in attracting female doctors to the region. This leaves the prenatal patients in a quandary, having to rely on local help or travelling to far off hospitals. According to Bibi travelling to other cities usually works for affluent families. “Poorer families mostly rely on divine help and take their chances at home,” she maintained.

A noted gynecologist, Naseem Saba, from Dera Ismail Khan offered her insight to Truth Tracker about the conditions of most cases arriving from South Waziristan. “In our experience most pregnant women come to us in critical condition. Most newly born children are weak due to the lack of appropriate diet of the expectant mother, often challenging the life of both mother and child.

Alamgir Mehsud, a resident of Makin told Truth Tracker that his wife incurred complications during her third pregnancy. On her way to Tank district she gave birth to a stillborn. “It is a blessing that she survived after rigorous treatments and expenditure,” he explained.

Senate member from South Waziristan, Maulana Saleh Shah, while speaking to Truth Tracker, said, “you inquire about female patients, even male patients lack health facilities here. “ He further said that he has often stressed to the governor and the senior military officials of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that the new hospitals and machinery are useless for the region if there are no doctors to care for patients.

According to FATA’s report on Sustainable development 2015-2017 600 women of every 100,000 women die during pregnancy. During childbirth 87 out of every 1000 infants lose their lives due to inadequate health facilities. There is no good quality private hospital available in FATA. Usually private health practitioners fulfill the health gaps in the region but according to the report, adverse political and security climate and ingrained traditional practices often bar women from seeking access even from these unqualified doctors.

An unnamed personnel of Civil Hospital in Tank told Truth Tracker that,” on an average 30-40 women come to the hospital for prenatal care weekly. However, many times more such patient women opt for private clinics and other cities.”

The senior official of FATA Health Department said that due to a lack of local lady health workers, oftentimes female family elders take their roles. He explained that the unique culture and tradition of the area discourages women to work as lady health workers even in their own communities.

Saleh suggested, “The only solution to the staggering health issues of South Waziristan could possibly be solved by offering female doctors more attractive packages so that they would be willing to work there.” He also raised concern about the newly-built hospital in Tehsil Sarwekai with the state of the art machinery which is getting wasted due to lack of proper medical staff. “Only some doctors from local NGOs are tending to minor patients their,” Saleh added.

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