Sunday, November 14, 2010

ARDESHIR COWASJEE ARTICLES : No shaming the shameless

FORGETTING the hot topics of the day – rigging, coalitions, prime ministers, judges, impeachments – that never leave us as we skim through the press and our now too many to count television news channels, am moving on to a topic that has no interest at all for those who have been in power and for those now jostling and jockeying for power – the be-all and end-all for our greedy grabbers in and out of military uniforms.
Many years ago, some friends of mine endowed with the ability to use their grey matter and actually think, whilst discussing my columns, asked me a pertinent question: can one shame the shameless? I used this question as the title of a subsequent column and was rendered forlorn and desolate, thanks to the internet, after reading the responses received from readers all over the world. The consensus was no, it is impossible. The link is to those who have ruled this country, who have presided over the destiny of this nation – they have been and remain shameless. What can we do about it? We can do nothing – other than to madly try to convince ourselves that we must never despair.
Now to what is controllable, but not necessarily curable. On March 1, 2003, ‘Epilepsy Day’, five years ago, our great helper and provider of solace to the poor, the deprived, the maimed, Abdul Sattar Edhi came out of the closet and wrote to Professor of Neurology, Physician Hasan Aziz, admitting that he had been suffering from epilepsy for some 30 years and had been under constant treatment to control the disease and thus was able to lead a normal life.
Hasan assured Edhi that he was in good company, that many of the great and famous of this world – philosophers, soldiers, artists, writers, sportsmen – were admitted epileptics who lived their lives being treated for the ailment.
Amongst the many are Pythagaros, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Lord Byron, Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alfred Nobel, Jonty Rhodes and Tony Greig. There are quite a few well known sufferers in Pakistan and Hasan despairs the fact that they have been and still are loathe to admit it publicly. It is not a stigma – it is a genetic malformation. It is nothing to be ashamed of.
Hasan Aziz, encouraged by Edhi’s reaction, and by the experience he had had observing the sufferings of the many patients he had treated for epilepsy, set about forming the National Epilepsy Centre. He founded and established this facility and it is now functional and operational at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre here at Karachi.
To Hasan’s knowledge, over two and a half million people of Pakistan’s 170 million are epileptic and their numbers are growing. Drugs to control epilepsy to the value of Rs250m were sold and consumed in 1998 and nine years on, by the end of 2007, the comparative value reached the figure of almost Rs850m.
Epilepsy aside, let us look at mental illnesses in Pakistan. With the advent of education, in 1922 the term ‘lunatic asylum’ was amended to ‘mental hospital’. Sir Cowasjee Jehangir (1812-1878), a wealthy citizen, merchant, builder and philanthropist of Bombay was asked by the Governor of Bombay (Sindh then being part of the governorship) to move a part of his establishment to Karachi and to help the government build canals and irrigation works in the province. In Bombay, Jehangir was wont to move around in a four-horse carriage – it dropped to two in Sindh. He completed his assignment and decided to leave behind him an institution needed by the people of the province, so, after a good deal of thought, he built a mental hospital at Giddu Bunder, on the banks of the Indus River near Hyderabad.
Come 1947, and this country had two mental hospitals to its name, the one endowed by Sir Cowasjee in 1865 (now known as the Sir C.J. Institute of Psychiatry whose land is constantly being stolen) and the Lahore Mental Hospital established in 1840.
Mental sickness is controllable and amongst the many doctors who have battled with it in Pakistan much has been achieved by Professor Zaki Hasan (now sadly deceased) and Professor Haroon Ahmed who luckily is very much with us.
Scientific studies have it that some 33 per cent of the population of Pakistan suffers from anxiety and depression at any given time, the male to female ratio being 1:2. These figures are also higher than in developed countries and also higher than, to take but two less developed, in Uganda or India.
Depression is one of the most common causes of suicide and as many as 2.86/100,000 Pakistanis commit suicide. This may still be under-reported because there is no official data or reporting system in Pakistan and many suicides are recorded as accidental deaths to avoid legal and religious complications.
Serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorders are estimated to be 0.5–1 per cent and 1–2 per cent respectively in the adult population. Thus, a minimum of 1,000,000 people suffer from serious mental illnesses out of a population of 170 million.
There are half a million heroin addicts in Pakistan, but the estimates of overall addiction of different varieties is much higher.
Unfortunately, the situation with our children is as radical as with the adults. The prevalence of child mental health problems among school going children is higher than in most developed and developing countries. More worrying is the rate of prevalence of mental retardation which is 19.0/1,000 for serious retardation and 65.3/1,000 for mild retardation. Both estimates are also considerably higher than respective prevalence estimates obtained in industrialised countries and in selected less developed countries.
Now, what ails the caretaker prime minister who doubles as Senate chairman, Mohammadmian Soomro? He is wealthy, appears not to be too healthy, and is definitely not wise. On Feb 24 we were informed in the national press under the headline ‘Soomro’s gift to himself: Live happily forever’ that “Caretaker Prime Minister Mohammadmian Soomro has awarded Senate Chairman Mohammadmian Soomro and his family a life-long gift of tax free hassle free well protected high flying retired life with diplomatic passports and much more, costing the state millions of rupees.” According to the summary issued by the Senate Secretariat, “The prime minister has been pleased to approve . . . . .” all the VVIP comforts and facilities including free lifetime medical treatment within and without Pakistan for retired Senate chairmen and their families, private secretaries, security guards, drivers, cooks, free telephones, diplomatic passports, ASF passes, etc, etc.
All this carries on after the chairmen depart this world as their widows and dependent children are included in the ‘gift’. The other benefactor of this largesse is Rhodes Scholar Waseem Sajjad, also not a poor or deprived citizen of this country, who holds the record for trips made to foreign countries as during his tenure he clocked up a healthy hundred.
Is this an unknown mental aberration or is it merely the national mental sickness afflicting all those who manage to wriggle into our seats of power – shamelessness?

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