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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 09:14 GMT
Pakistani pop star reborn by loss
By Chiade O'Shea in Islamabad

Sughra & Shafi Medical Complex
The hospital offers services free to those who cannot afford them
Seven years ago, Pakistani pop sensation Abrar ul-Haq was spending the spoils of his new found fame on fast cars and a rock star lifestyle.

He says he was dreaming of buying himself a private jet when a personal tragedy gave him a new perspective on life.

"I could have bought the jet. I was very serious about it. Then I lost my mother in 1996... and life suddenly changed," Abrar told BBC News Online.

So the singer of the best-selling album Bilo Day Ghar, who is also popular in the United States and Europe, decided to put his stardom to good use.

"If people follow you, it's a great opportunity given by God and you should use it before the fame dies," he said.

Deadly toll

Abrar decided to concentrate his efforts on a problem that kills thousands of women needlessly every year.

"Every 20 minutes in Pakistan, we lose a young mother because of delivery and obstetric problems," said Abrar.

Abrar ul-Haq (left) and mother and child at his new medical centre
Abrar ul-Haq (L) and one of the mothers attending his hospital

"It's like a jumbo jet full of women crashes every week and we don't even know about it."

He set up the Sahara for Life Trust to oversee the building of a hospital, complete with a mother and baby unit, in Pakistan's isolated Narowal district, 80 kilometres (50 miles) from Lahore.

This June, after seven years of work, Sahara for Life opened the hospital - the Sughra & Shafi Medical Complex.

It offers out-patient check-ups for pregnant women and new babies, family planning advice and medication.

The 120-bed in-patient complex is due to open in January, after a final fundraising push currently underway.

Before the hospital was opened, local women simply went without medical help during childbirth.

"Because of the remoteness of the area, it's two-and-a-half hours drive from Lahore, people were dying on the road on the way," said Abrar.

Easily prevented

With only 19% of births in Pakistan assisted by a doctor, nurse or midwife, the lack of medical care in rural areas costs many mothers their lives.

Most who die in labour or during pregnancy suffer from problems such as high blood pressure or excessive bleeding that could be treated with minimal medical intervention.

One in 188 live births in Pakistan results in the death of the mother
Only 19% of deliveries are attended by a skilled health care professional
Two-thirds of pregnant women receive no prenatal care
Two-thirds of pregnant women are anaemic
Source: United Nations

And one-quarter of infant deaths are caused by tetanus - easily prevented by vaccinating the pregnant mother.

If a mother lives within travelling distance of emergency obstetric care, she reduces her chances of dying from post-delivery excessive bleeding - the single biggest killer of mothers in Pakistan - from one in 625 to one in 1,052, according to UN Population Fund research.

By the time a family identifies that a mother's medical condition is severe enough to need hospital treatment, it is often too late to save her life.

Then there is the question of money - women often die for the lack of a few pounds.

"For these women, their family won't take them to hospital because the travel, staying in Lahore and buying food costs lots of money for people from a village. So they leave it to God, saying if they survive, they survive. It's so depressing," Abrar said.

Sahara for Life decided the medical centre should provide all its services regardless of a patient's ability to pay.

"For the people who cannot afford medicines and consultation fees, we offer it free, totally, whatever the cost," said Faheem Ikram Butt, administrator at the Sughra & Shafi Medical Complex.

Perveen Mukhtar, a 50-year-old mother from Bulaki, Narowal district, said: "I came after I heard about the medicine and check-ups that are free after you pay the 10 rupees [16 cents] registration. This hospital provides modern medical facilities for peasants like us in Narowal. This was never possible before."

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