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Corruption scandals rock Christian hospitals in Pakistan

Accusations of nepotism, graft and maladministration 'are ruining the good names of several famous institutions'

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Kamran Chaudhry, Lahore

Published: September 15, 2021 08:10 AM GMT
Corruption scandals rock Christian hospitals in Pakistan

Established in 1922, Christian Hospital Taxila specializes in eye diseases and occupies 38 acres in Taxila, 40 kilometers west of Islamabad. (Photo: chtaxila.com)

Christian Hospital Taxila made headlines in 2002 when a grenade attack on a chapel inside killed four Christian nurses. Pope John Paul II was deeply grieved by the “reprehensible assaults on innocent life.”

Established in 1922, the facility specializes in eye diseases and occupies 38 acres in Taxila, 40 kilometers west of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Swedish nun Wenny Lekardal, who served here as a nurse for 27 years, was awarded the President's Award for Pride of Performance this March. The Swedish embassy in Pakistan shared video footage of the event on its Facebook page.

However, scandals of nepotism, corruption and maladministration lurk behind the scenes.

“Another Christian institute is getting closed. The community should raise its voice against these incompetent people. Government or other forces might nationalize it. We strongly demand that hospital board members take urgent action against this administration,” Roheel Zafar Shahi, an activist, stated in a Facebook post last month.

The accompanying videos showed nurses and hospital staff protesting over unpaid wages and arguing with administrators. The protesters included Dr. Felix Gill who has been waiting for his monthly salary since May.

“Salaries of more than two months were also withheld last year when the country was put under a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite taking millions from a church fund, the administration is using the pandemic as an excuse,” he told UCA News.

“In 1989, we were at our peak with 14,800 surgeries. Then things went downhill. Now we are only performing five surgeries a day. We have already hit rock bottom.”

Gill, who has served at the hospital for three decades, filed a lawsuit against the medical board last year. His colleague, another Christian doctor, was fired this April.

“Highly educated professionals are rare in our community. Good doctors are needed to generate income amid the crunch. However, our director terminated her citing downsizing. The Presbyterian medical board, whose members are mostly abroad, was not consulted and regulations were ignored. Now I am being threatened,” said Gill.

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“Although two board members are now deceased, the local police verified the list for registration in a joint-stock company. It’s blatant fraud. 

“Services were not diversified beyond cataract surgery. The present management is not business-oriented and lacks vision. As the funding dried, the director already won four extensions. There is no policy to move ahead.”

The Pakistani Church is known for its high-quality education and charitable institutions. And credit for introducing open-heart surgery goes to Lahore's United Christian Hospital (UCH), founded in 1947 during partition from India to take care of thousands of injured and sick immigrants.

UCH also became the talk of the town in 2006 when its former chairman was reported to have sold 253 square meters of land for a car park for about US$330,300. Representatives of the Church of Pakistan and Presbyterian Church are among the hospital's board members. The rumors on social media include a red-light bar, fake degree holders, encroachment and sale of its land and medical equipment.

More than 50 Christian missionary hospitals have been providing healthcare services to the poor in Pakistan. These include nine Catholic hospitals in Karachi, Hyderabad, Lahore, Faisalabad and Islamabad-Rawalpindi dioceses. Presbyterian Church (USA) supports Christian Hospital Taxila and the Memorial Hospital in Sialkot, both in Punjab province, through the International Health Ministries office.

In 2018, Punjab Healthcare Commission suspended surgeries in 25 operating theaters at Taxila hospital and eight other hospitals and issued warnings to 18 healthcare establishments for failing to meet Minimum Service Delivery Standards.

Pastor Majid Abel, chairman of the Presbyterian Medical Board, visited the hospital last month.

“The issue of resurrecting the dead board members shouldn’t be taken to such extremes. This list is proof of our honesty. It was forwarded in the original shape. There is a crisis. Few employees became involved in litigation. However, they are not eligible to challenge the registration of the board,” he told a web-based news channel.

“The hospital has suffered financially due to the pandemic. The resentments of doctors and staff will be addressed. Some people are criticizing for the sake of it. I really sympathize with the staff. Some have been paid partly. There is some truth in allegations of nepotism and intimidation. Hopefully, things will get better.”

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