AFTER a long stand-off between public-sector hospital doctors and the government in Punjab, an almost two-month strike by doctors in Quetta threw up familiar scenes of patients’ misery. In both cases the doctors were called upon to not punish those whom they were bound by oath to look after. In both, the protesters held firm, resolving to not resume work until the acceptance of their demands. In Quetta, the local press club intervened and brought the strikers and government together for a fruitful dialogue. That was a crucial step towards reconciliation and the doctors in the Balochistan capital returned to work on Friday. In Lahore earlier, an important demand of doctors was for the government to drop the cases against some 74 of their colleagues booked under charges of interfering in official work, etc. The government agreed to do so, paving the way for an end to the protest.
Similarities apart, the causes behind each of these strikes were different. In Punjab, the doctors were fighting for improvements in service structure, whereas in Quetta, personal security was the main issue. The Quetta strike came in the wake of a spate of attacks and kidnappings targeting doctors. That ransom has been paid in all cases where a doctor’s release has been secured in Balochistan points to a weak official security setup. Unless some drastic measures are put in place, the danger will loom, with all its painful ramifications for doctors and patients. Also, some kind of a forum must be established to address the grievances of the medical staff to prevent their resort to the extreme option of a strike. The provision of this forum and security are vital to building an atmosphere where doctors can be more easily asked to stand by their oath and by those who need them.