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A Pakistani Christian sewerage cleaner died after three doctors refused to treat him until his sludge-covered body had been washed.
Doctors at Umar Kot Civil Hospital in Sindh Province, refused to even touch 35 year old Irfan Masih a kaffir (non-Muslim) while he was unclean, believing that this would nullify the purity they required during the Ramadan fast, making it 'makruh (null and void).
Umar Kot has approximately 75 Christian families most f whom are employed as sanitary workers, a job that Muslims refuse to do.
Brother of Irfan Masih, Parvaiz Masih, described the incident to the British Pakistani Christian Association, he said:
"My brother left our family home and arrived at his workplace at 7am as per usual on the 1st of June. The sewerage lines had been blocked for a few days and it is know this causes a build up of poisonous gases. Despite this knowledge senior managers demanded that my brother Irfan and his colleagues Shaukat and Yaqoob Masih enter the sewerage tunnel without safety gear to remove the blockage.
"All three men refused to unclog the drain but were told that if they did not proceed with entering the drain and extracting the sludge, they would have their employment terminated. So they duly started to clear the sewage pipe.
“They objected that the lines, clogged for a long time, would be filled with poisonous gases, but the three inspectors told them that they either open the clogged lines or quit their jobs.
"Yaqoob entered the manhole first but fell unconscious when he opened the blocked pipe due to strong poisonous fumes.
"My brother Irfan entered next tied a rope around Yaqoob and waited for him to be pulled out, but his rope knot came undone resulting in the body of Yaqoob falling on him and rendering him unconscious too.
"Shaukhat then tried to save the two men but also fell unconscious due to the noxious fumes.
“At 8am I received a call and my colleagues and I ran to help. Shaukat’s brother Faisal also reached there with me. He tied a rope around himself and took another rope to tie onto the bodies of the three. By now much of the poisonous fumes had escaped and we were able to pulled the all three of them out of the manhole."
Pakistan’s sewerage system has not been modernised since British colonial times. Pipes are buried under the ground, with a series of manholes used to clean them. When a sewer line is blocked, bamboo is put into the pipeline through the manhole to penetrate blockages and restart movement. If it is filled with blackwater sewage (sludge), then a cleaner is expected to hold his breath and dive into the filthy water without any protective gear to clear the blockage.
Pervaiz alleges a call was made by him to Civil Hospital to say that the three unconscious men would be brought to the hospital. But instead of treating the vulnerable victims the first doctor who came to examine them a Mr Muhammad Yousuf, asked a ward assistant to get the bodies of the three men washed before an examination. He clearly advised the ward assistant that he did not want to ruin his fast or make himself unclean which would displease Allah.
Pervaiz Masih also alleges that two doctors Allah Daad and Jaam Kambar also refused to provide any medical treatment due to a fear of ritual impurity. He said:
“Then a fourth doctor Hanif Arisar came, who overlooked the potential ritual impurity and demanded that oxygen be given to Irfan, but the hospital had no available supply.”
“Shaukat and Yaqoob were transferred to Hyderabad Hospital under critical condition, while my brother was pronounced dead after an examination by Dr Hanif.”
The death of Irfan Masih and the negligence of the three doctors caused furore amongst the beleaguered Christians of Umar Kot Christians. Together they blocked a major road junction and formed a demonstration at which they, demanded criminal action be taken against the three named doctors. Initially local police refused to register a crime but after intervention of the Government following a series of media reports a First Incident Report was filed against the three suspects under charges of Murder through negligence.
The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C) is traditionally regarded as the founder of medicine, scientific discipline and medical ethics.
The Hippocratic Oath, taken by ancient and medieval doctors, requires high ethical standards from medical doctors. Its principles are considered important in professional and ethical education of medical doctors even today. Many people think that doctors still swear the Hippocratic Oath. It is not compulsory but in fact many medical schools across the world including Pakistan now hold a ceremony where graduating doctors do swear an updated version.
Irrespective of swearing a hippocratic oath they are laws, policies, regulations and practices that govern how a doctor must conduct themselves and what practices they must undertake in the course of their work. The failure to respond to a dying victim in a Pakistani hospital for fear of nullifying Ramadan will no doubt breach these rules.
Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:
"The refusal to examine and treat a patient because of a desire to preserve the ritual purity required during the fast of Ramadan is unlawful, a breach of regulations and in many schools of Islamic jurisprudence unscriptural.
"Several witnesses testify that Irfan Masih displayed visible signs of life when he entered the hospital and that the delay in examination resulted in his death.
"Pakistani Authorities must investigate this hospital negligence with due diligence and ensure that appropriate action is taken to ensure future preventable deaths are thwarted.
"Even more sinister however is the disgraceful use of deprived Christians to clean an anachronistic sewerage system. Pakistan must modernise it's sewerage system and equally ensure that any staff employed in the dangerous environs of a sewerage system have appropriate protective clothing and equipment."
British Pakistani Christian Association would like to cover the costs for the funeral of Irfan Masih and the medical costs for the two other injured parties, including compensation for time of work. If you would like to contribute towards this please (click here)