Skip to main content
Targeted doctors, missing patients: Obstetric health services and sectarian conflict in northern Pakistan.
Social Sciences & Medicine (2010)
  • Emma Varley

The spectre of exclusionary medical service provision, restricted clinic access and physician targeting in sectarian-divided Iraq underscores the crucial and timely need for qualitative research into the interrelationship between conflict, identity and health. In response, this paper provides a critical ethnography of obstetric service provision and patient access during Shia-Sunni hostilities in Gilgit Town, capital of Pakistan’s Northern Areas (2005). I analyse how services were embedded in and constrained by sectarian affiliation in ways that detrimentally impacted Sunni women patients and hospital staff, resulting in profoundly diminished clinic access, reduced physician coverage and a higher observed incidence of maternal morbidity and mortality. The paper first situates obstetric medicine at the interstices of contested sectarian terrain and competing historical projects of sectarian identity. Gilgiti Sunnis’ high clinical reliance is argued to be a response to and consequence of, inter-sectarian dissonance and the ascendance of biomedicine during three decades of regional development. In 2005, conflict-incurred service deprivations and the enactment and strategic use of sectarian identity in clinical settings were associated with differential treatment and patient-perceived adverse health outcomes, leading Sunnis to generate alternative sect-specific health services. Obstetric morbidity and mortality during sectarian conflict are analyzed as distinctive manifestations of the wide range of direct harms routinely associated with violence and political strife.

  • Obstetric health services,
  • sectarian conflict,
  • sectarianism,
  • service access barriers,
  • maternal morbidity and mortality,
  • Pakistan
Publication Date
Citation Information
Emma Varley. "Targeted doctors, missing patients: Obstetric health services and sectarian conflict in northern Pakistan." Social Sciences & Medicine Vol. 70 (2010)
Available at: