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The Express Tribune Editorial 13 January 2020

NICH incubator tragedy


In a tragic recent incident, a newborn girl died when an incubator caught fire at Karachi’s National Institute of Child Health (NICH), Sindh’s largest children’s hospital. A preliminary probe has found that the fire had been caused by a short circuit in the incubator.
Regrettably, the incident points to the Sindh Health Department’s inability to adequately oversee the province’s health facilities as this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in Karachi. Because incubators are meant for the most vulnerable among us i.e. newborns, their inadequate maintenance can have serious consequences. They thus demand extra Health Department vigilance and oversight.
It is essential to keep past incubator incidents in mind, both at home and abroad, to effectively address the problem. Firstly, many incubators are used for years and are subjected to considerable shock and vibration as they are mounted on casters and moved around for cleaning and storage. Care must be taken to ensure that this mechanical stress does not damage their temperature control mechanisms, as the resultant overheating can cause brain damage or death in infants. Secondly, it is essential that old incubators be continually checked in order to incorporate into them the necessary safety features. Missing heat shields, for example, have caused severe burns in infants in the past. Thirdly, lack of maintenance has also previously resulted in the use of incubators with high noise levels due to defective or misaligned air-circulating fans which can cause hearing loss in newborns. And fourthly, another malfunction seen before that must be guarded against is broken mercury-based temperature sensors in older incubators which expose infants to hazardous mercury vapours.
In short, it is imperative that the country’s health departments, including the Sindh Health Department, concentrate on proactive maintenance measures to prevent the recurrence of past tragedies.


High price of brinksmanship

If there is one word that comes to mind when looking at the recent history of the Middle East, it is hubris. Hubris is also what encapsulates the latest episode in what is shaping up to be a presidential-term long standoff between Donald Trump and Iran.
The tragedy of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 reminds us what the real cost of brinksmanship can be. After insisting for two days that the plane coincidentally crashed due to ‘technical error’ hours after it had launched retaliatory strikes against US military facilities in Iraq, Iran acquiesced that its forces had indeed shot it down. But even as they apologised for the ‘unforgivable mistake’, they attempted to place the blame for the incident on America’s doorstep.
‘US adventurism’, Iran’s foreign minister Javed Zarif claimed, “led to human error at a time of crisis” – days earlier, a missile strike launched on Trump’s orders killed a top Iranian general in what was the first time since the Second World War that the US had targeted a senior military official. Zarif’s attempt, it appears, has not been enough to placate his intended audience in Iran, which has, if reports are to be believed, taken to the streets calling for the regime’s ouster.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, far from learning any sobering lesson from the sordid episode that still threatens to spiral out of control, has instead sniffed an opportunity in the protests to further ratchet up pressure on the Iranian regime. The move was seemingly answered in mere hours as Iran launched a fresh rocket salvo at an Iraqi base housing US personnel.
If the past few days have proved anything, it is that neither regime seems interested in anything more than appearing strong to itself. As they engage in a fresh round of ‘No, you!’ and upping the ante, one wonders if either of them have the courage to tell the families of Flight 752 victims what they died for.


Sultan Qaboos


Sultan Qaboos, a towering figure who transformed the Persian Gulf nation of Oman into a modern state in five decades of unbroken rule, has left for his heavenly abode. His passing leaves a huge vacuum in a nation of 4.6 million, which his successor will find hard to fill. The elderly patriarch, during half a century that he stayed on at the helm, introduced massive developments in his country and played a vital part in maintaining stability in a neighbourhood riven by conflicts.
Sultan Qaboos will forever be known for being the great moderniser of Oman and a key arbitrator between feuding neighbours, both in times of war and peace. When he took charge in 1970, Oman was mostly underdeveloped. But within a short span, he embarked upon a massive drive to change the country’s fortunes by ploughing oil money back into building vital infrastructure, educational institutions, hospitals, banks, and air and seaports.
The National, an Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper, made an apt comment: ‘Sultan Qaboos was famously a foreign policy pragmatist under whose leadership Oman maintained friendly ties with every country in the neighbourhood, refusing to take sides even during times of duress. He believed that such a positive approach was beneficial not just to Oman but to everyone in the Middle East. What makes his pragmatism even more laudable is that despite being a friend of the West and a military man – he was an alumnus of the Sandhurst Military Academy in Britain – he worked strenuously on the principle of pacifism even with awkward neighbours.’
Sultan Qaboos’ greatest legacy, perhaps, will be the peaceful and stable Oman he has left behind. Now it’s up to Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, a cousin of the late sultan, who has stepped into the deceased leader’s shoes, to promote the peace agenda of his predecessor.
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