Buewala is a small town, about 300 km from Lahore, Pakistan. About 15 km from the main town is the shrine of Haji Sher. A visit to the area horrifies the soul as humans are seen chained to the trees while animals roam around freely. It is believed that when these patients recover by the blessings of the saint, the chains will open up automatically. This practice is going on there for centuries.
Those people with mental illnesses stay chained to the trees under severe weather conditions ranging from scorching heat to the biting cold, eating, sleeping and answering the nature calls all at the same place. The duration of their stay there ranges from weeks to even years. Their families stay in nearby rooms while waiting for the miracle to happen for their loved ones.
In 1991 a local politician approached Dr. Sa’ad Malik with the tales of the mentally ill at the shrine of Haji Sher, who promptly agreed to do something to help those patients. Thus MIND came into being and a permanent clinic was set up near the shrine with a doctor and a social worker. Consequently, the doctor started seeing the patients while conducting a tree to tree round and providing medications free of cost.
In the beginning the shrine caretakers thought that MIND was interested in the “nazranas” (money and gifts) and they created problems for the doctors and discouraged the patients from seeking treatment. As time passed, their views changed due to the charitable nature of the organization and in the recent past they have even encouraged the patients to get psychiatric help along with the blessings of the shrine.
Moreover, initially, families of the patients were reluctant to seek treatment. Hence drug compliance and follow up was poor. However, now when the families and patients visit the shrine for blessings they also visit the clinic for medication. The number of patients has increased significantly and the current monthly turnover of patients is above 900.
For 20 years (1992 to 2012), Dr. Muhammad Akram used to runs the Mind Burewala clinic and conducts daily visits to the shrine for the patients tied to the trees. He used to evaluate the patients and gives them medication free of cost as well as support and guidance to the patients and their families.
A team comprising psychiatrists, psychologists, volunteers and coordinator visits the clinic once every two months. On these visits the complicated cases are assessed in detail, long-term management is planned and families are educated.
From Mind Burewala Clinic to Skeikh Din Mohammad Trust Hospital:
Mind organization reached a milestone by opening 1st Psychiatric Hospital in Burewala with the help and donation of Mohammad Akram Sheikh, advocate Supreme court.
Dr. Iftikhar see patients daily in morning and daily turnover has reached around 70. Telepsychiatry facility is also provided so that complicated cases can be seen on day to day basis rather than waiting for team of psychiatrist to visit Burewala.