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Why Are Doctors Protesting Despite Government Assurances And Beatings From Police?

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As Pakistan takes on the Coronavirus pandemic, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are on the frontlines just as in other countries of the world. But unlike other countries, Pakistan has seen report after report of police beating the protesting doctors. Even though the media is describing them as “front-line defenders”, the doctors’ own demands for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to enable them to properly treat Covid-19 patients appear to be falling on deaf ears.

In Punjab, Provincial Health Minister Yasmin Rashid is herself from the medical profession. But she has done little to address the grievances of the doctors – many of whom would have been her students. There was a time when Dr. Rashid herself was in open support of young doctors’ protests. Many might ask: what changed since then?

Now that the government has announced one month’s extra pay for doctors and assured them of the provision of all protective equipment, why do the doctors consider it necessary to continue their protest?

Naya Daur spoke to Dr. Salman Haseeb, who is the Chairman of the Grand Health Alliance and an active participant in the ongoing protest by doctors.

Dr. Haseeb says that while much of the world has provided all kinds of protection to its medical professionals in this challenging moment, the Punjab government appears committed to the exact opposite approach. He notes that at the moment, more than 110 doctors and paramedics are infected with the Coronavirus, while more than 100 suspected cases have been sent for tests – the results of which are still awaited.

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In Dr. Haseeb’s view, while conditions in Lahore are somewhat better due to the glare of media attention, the state of affairs is far worse elsewhere in the province. He describes Multan’s Nishtar Hospital as a veritable “hell” for doctors and paramedics: where they are being forced to decide whether to save their own lives or those of patients. At the moment, 20 healthcare professionals in Gujrat, 25 in D.G. Khan and 40 in Multan are confirmed to have been infected by the Coronavirus.

According to Dr. Salman Haseeb, representatives of the government are claiming on TV screens that all is well, but when doctors inform them of their situation and ask for PPE, they claim that such protection is not available. He says that they cite the country’s meagre resources, poverty and lack of options in an effort to dishonestly tell doctors that no protective equipment can be provided.

The problem doesn’t stop here. Dr. Haseeb says that those doctors who protest such conditions are being targeted by the government. Earlier on, doctors were being terminated from their jobs, but when this policy was reconsidered and fresh orders reinstating them came from the government, a new approach was adopted. Now such doctors are being excluded from lists of new appointments.

Dr. Haseeb also says that in Lahore’s Mayo Hospital and General Hospital, those protesting doctors who are known to have an influential voice in the medical community are being deprived of their pay.

Naya Daur attempted to contact government representatives including Dr. Yasmin Rashid to discuss these claims, but received no response so far.

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