Doctors in The Line of Fire

Adnan Aamir
Afew weeks ago, a fight broke out between the family of a female patient and a doctor. Members of the patient’s family beat up the doctor, claiming that he had sexually assaulted the woman who had gone to the hospital for a regular check-up. The doctor denied these allegations and convinced doctors in Quetta to go on a strike.
Young Doctors Association (YDA) jumped the bandwagon and joined the strike but on a different pretext. They said they were protesting shortage of medical equipment and inadequate security for doctors during times of crisis. YDA locked down the one and only trauma centre in Quetta and stopped working at all public hospitals.
Chaos ensued as a result of the strike. People from all over the province travel to Quetta to get treatment at the city’s two main hospitals: Bolan Medical Complex and Sandeman Provincial Hospital (SPH). During the strike, when these unsuspecting patients reached these hospitals, they found them closed. They continued to suffer for more than 10 days but the protesting doctors did not care.
It comes as no surprise that the privilege communities of the city were unaffected by the strike and did not face any problems since private hospitals and clinics remained open. The cause of the strike was an incident in a private hospital but doctors boycotted duties at public hospitals. Ironically, private hospitals suffered no losses from this strike, whereas scores of patients could not receive medical attention in public facilities.
This is not the first time such an incident paralysed the healthcare system of the province. Many people believe that this is the result of a weak regulatory mechanism of the Health Department of Balochistan.
It comes as no surprise that the privilege communities of the city were unaffected by the strike and did not face any problems since private hospitals and clinics remained open
The issue went viral on social media within a few days. People began to highlight double standards of the protesting doctors and criticised them. There was a strong reaction against them on social media. People reminded doctors about medical ethics and their oath. During the strike, one of the doctors misbehaved with a female reporter covering their protest and this added fuel to the fire. Journalists in Quetta boycotted all events of the doctors and this further isolated them in the public eye.
Shakila Naveed, an MPA of BNP-Mengal, criticised the protesting doctors on the floor of Balochistan Assembly. She termed these doctors “blackmailers” and urged the government to sack them immediately. National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri, elected from Quetta, also termed the protest illegal and demanded that the government ban private practice by doctors inducted at public hospitals. Many other politicians and members of civil society expressed similar sentiments against the doctors and there was an overwhelming condemnation of their protest.
Extensive criticism on social media put the doctors in a tough spot. Where the Health Department had failed to hold them accountable, civil society spoke up through social media. In the face of increasing criticism and pressure, the doctor’s community began to rethink their protest. One by one, doctors began to distance themselves from the protest. Baloch Doctors Forum was the first to announce resumption of work. Other doctors ended their protest soon.
YDA, too, was left with no choice but to the end the strike. They accepted the assurance of health minister and returned to work on April 12. People across the province heaved a sigh of relief as public hospitals resumed operations. This strike came to end mainly due to pressure from civil society which widely condemned the doctors for their unprofessional behaviour.
It is said that it is mostly senior doctors who instigate such protests. They are on the government’s payroll but also run private hospitals and clinics. Not only have they made fortunes from their private practice, they do not attend to their patients in public hospitals. These doctors are never held accountable for their prolonged absence from work.
On the other hand, many young doctors only have government jobs and do not run private practices. They have low salaries, face shortage of medical equipment and have poor security at their workplaces. Their demands are genuine but their strike was unacceptable to the public.
The government of Balochistan must strengthen the Health Department as a regulatory body for private hospitals and clinics. There should be zero tolerance for private practices of doctors on the government’s payroll. The provincial government also needs to ensure that doctors are available across the province and not just in Quetta. It should ensure that treatment at private hospitals is affordable. At the same time, the government must also accept all genuine demands of YDA and provide them the required resources to perform their jobs effectively.
Originally published in The Friday Times
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