Botched Surgery Leaves Stillborn Baby’s Head Inside Mother’s Uterus

Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia.
Rimal Farrukh
Islamabad, PK
baby, decapitated, Pakistan, infant mortality
A stillborn infant's head was decapitated and left inside its mother's uterus during surgery in Tharparkar, Pakistan. Photo is for illustrative purposes only. Photo:
Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

A stillborn baby’s head was cut off and left inside their mother’s womb during surgery in rural Pakistan, in a medical incident that highlights the country’s lack of access to maternity care.

The botched operation took place last week at a charity hospital in Pakistan’s Tharparkar district, where a woman was brought in to deliver her dead infant, which was in a breech, or bottom-down, position.

During delivery, doctors separated the baby’s torso from their head, which remained stuck in the mother’s uterus. The surgery was conducted without a gynaecologist present.

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“The head got stuck after delivering the torso because the delivery was done by inexperienced hands,” a top health official of Sindh province said in a statement on Saturday.

Such bungled delivery is not unheard of even in wealthy countries, but the disaster in Tharparkar, where 87 percent of the population live in poverty, did not end there.

After the failed delivery, the woman, whose life was considered in danger, was transferred to another hospital 51 miles away with the baby’s head still inside of her on an hourlong journey.

But they discovered upon arrival that the hospital did not have adequate facilities to treat her. She was then sent to another hospital in Hyderabad city, nearly 134 miles away. The baby’s head was removed through abdominal surgery because her uterus was ruptured, a doctor who operated on her said.

“The mother is now out of danger and is in recovery,” Tharparkar district health officer Dr. Greesh told VICE World News. He is part of an official committee investigating the chain of medical failures that endangered the woman’s life.

Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia. According to UNICEF, the country reported 54 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, a figure that’s twice as high as neighbouring India’s and at least 10 times higher than developed nations’. Although the country’s infant mortality rate has been declining in recent years, a marked disparity exists between its urban and rural areas.

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In a remote, far-flung region like Tharparkar, where drought and famine are frequent, its population of 1.6 million lacks basic infrastructure and healthcare facilities, including those for mothers and infants. As few as 16 percent of deliveries were assisted by doctors, nurses, midwives or other skilled birth attendants.

“Specialised doctors are unavailable in the region. Women and their children keep dying,” Karachi-based health journalist Muhammad Waqar Bhatti told VICE World News. 

“Specialised doctors and gynaecologists don’t want to step foot in the region because of how underdeveloped it is,” Bhatti said. “The government needs to make conscious efforts to increase healthcare staff and facilities in the region so that such tragedies can be avoided in the future.”

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