AS the doctors’ strike in Balochistan expands in scope, there has been a parallel increase in the people’s misery. While previously the strike was limited to government hospitals, doctors in private healthcare facilities have now joined the protest. Matters took an even uglier turn on Tuesday when emergency services and out-patient departments were shut in reaction to the rough treatment meted out by the police to protesting medics on Monday. In a related, equally disturbing development, doctors’ bodies in Sindh on Tuesday also threatened to stop work if their colleagues in Balochistan were not freed and cases against them, lodged in reaction to Monday’s protest, not withdrawn. Doctors in Balochistan have been on strike now for over a month; the protest was sparked by the kidnapping of eye specialist Dr Saeed Khan, who was abducted in October. Several doctors have either been killed or kidnapped in the restive province in the recent past.
The police action against protesting doctors is condemnable while it is well-known that security in Balochistan is very poor. We sympathise with the plight of doctors, yet there can be no justification for adding to the grief of the people by denying them medical care. Harrowing images came out of Quetta on Tuesday, of patients desperate for medical attention. Doctors in public and private facilities need to immediately return to work and pursue their rights through other methods of protest. While industrial action may be an acceptable mode of protest in other professions, when it comes to doctors it is literally a matter of life or death for patients, so shutdowns of hospitals should be out of the question. Also, instead of adopting a confrontational posture, the Balochistan government needs to respond to the medics’ demands, especially by recovering the kidnapped doctor and providing the medical community with adequate security.