Botched surgery leaves baby’s head inside mother’s womb in Pakistan

Incident has prompted a major investigation into alleged malpractice. Warning: this story contains details which some readers may find disturbing

Shweta Sharma
Tuesday 21 June 2022 13:46 BST
<p>File image: Investigations have been launched at two hospitals in relation to the incident</p>

File image: Investigations have been launched at two hospitals in relation to the incident

Health authorities in Pakistan’s Sindh province are investigating a botched surgery that left a stillborn baby’s head inside the womb of a woman after it was severed from its body.

The woman, 32, is from a remote tribal community and was first taken to a missionary charity hospital in the Chachro area of Tharparkar district, where attempts were made to deliver the breech baby – a situation in which the baby turns upside down or bottom down inside the womb.

In a string of alleged malpractices, officials say the “inexperienced” doctors then tried to conduct a normal birth by taking the torso out of the womb first.

However, the baby’s head got stuck in the mother’s uterus, Dr Juman Bahoto, director general of Sindh Health Services, told the Dawn newspaper.

The botched surgery was done without a gynaecologist or female staff present at the rural health centre in Chachro, the report said.

The woman was then referred to the Civil Hospital in Mithi district, about 51 miles away, with the baby’s head still inside her womb.

But the woman had to be taken to a third hospital, this time around 134 miles away near Hyderabad city, after the family found the civil hospital did not have adequate facilities to treat her.

A second surgery was carried out at the Liaquat University of Medical & Health Sciences (LUH) where doctors removed the baby’s head and declared the woman safe after the horrifying ordeal.

The mother is said to have suffered significant psychological trauma during the ordeal, and officials are also investigating whether staff or members of the public at LUH took videos and photographs of the patient as she lay unconscious in the hospital. The disturbing images were reportedly later shared on local WhatsApp groups.

Dr Raheel Sikandar of the Liaquat hospital told Dawn that they conducted surgery on the woman as her uterus was damaged after the procedure at the charity hospital.

“The woman’s life has been saved,” he said. “The baby’s buttocks and legs were fully developed, but unfortunately it was a dead breech baby.”

Dr Sikandar said the baby’s head “was entrapped inside”.

“We decided to open her abdomen surgically and take out the head,” he added.

He said breech babies are usually safely delivered and survive, but in some cases, death could occur within a minute if they are not fully delivered.

A three-member committee has been ordered to conduct an investigation into the case and two separate inquiries were ordered for the two hospitals.

“The foetus was not in a cephalic [normal] position. So the head got stuck after delivering the torso because the delivery was done by inexperienced hands,” Dr Bahoto said.

He also said the investigation would confirm if the head was detached from the body or if it was the case of “twin babies”, without elaborating.

The inquiry committee will also be tasked with investigating the images that appeared on WhatsApp.

The extreme case of alleged medical malpractice has put a spotlight on the country’s lack of access to maternity care in rural and remote areas.

Pakistan has the highest infant mortality rate in South Asia, with 54 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, according to Unicef.

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