09/24/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Christian medical centre helping Muslims and Pakistan’s poor

by Sarah John
The Bishop Paul Community Center was built on a plot of land owned by the Holy Rosary Catholic Church. It provides free medical care for the poor and Muslim women; making up for some of the country’s many shortcomings.
Faisalabad (AsiaNews) – One doctor per 900 people and one hospital bed per every thousand potential patients describe the state of health care system of Pakistan. Basic health services, especially in rural areas and among refugees, are far from meeting the population’s needs, and this comes on top of widespread poverty and an active insurgency by Islamic extremists. Getting medical treatment in Pakistan is often impossible.

The list of grim statistics does not end there. Pakistan's defence budget last year came to US$ 3.45 billion, and is expected to reach .65 billion next year.  Public spending in health care stood at under US$ 150 million this year. The government says it plans a 56 per cent increase next year, bringing the budget to 0 million. However, without international humanitarian agencies, Pakistan’s health care system would simply collapse.

In such a dire scenario, Christians are doing all they can do to make up for some of shortcomings.

Parishioners from the Holy Rosary Church in Faisalabad’s Madina Town were able to get their priest, Fr Bashir Francis, to use a plot of land near their Church to build a dispensary. It provides much needed medical care for residents, especially the poorest.

With the assistance of the local Caritas a three-room facility with lavatories was built, and named after the ‘Bishop Paul Community Center’ in honour Mgr Paul Andreotti, a Dominican missionary and Faisalabad bishop, who passed away in 1995.

Thanks to Caritas Pakistan, the dispensary does more than hand out drugs. Twice a month, two doctors and nurse perform free check-ups and tests as well as bring pharmaceutical supplies (Pictured).

There is also an ecumenical aspect to the initiative because it is being run in cooperation with the Care Channel International organisation, which is connected to the Evangelical Calvary Church.

The Bishop Paul Community Center is one of the few health centres open to pregnant Muslim women.

Covered in their parda so as not to show their face in the presence of men, these women know that at the centre they have access to equipment and personnel who can help them skirt around Islamic rules without breaking them.

In Pakistan, small but significant initiatives such as the one above constitute a network that links together Pakistan’s many Christian communities, helping them cope with the failures of the country’s health care system.

Another example is St. Raphael's Hospital in Faisalabad, which is run by Franciscan nuns. The very existence of this place allowed Shahana, 35, to bring to term her pregnancy. Poor with an unemployed husband, she was going to get an abortion. Close to despair, she turned to Fr Bashir Francis who directed her to St Raphael’s where the nuns took care of her, free of charge.

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