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KARACHI: Established four years after the enactment of the relevant law thanks to government inefficiency, the Sindh Healthcare Commission is yet to become fully operational, it emerged on Wednesday.

According to sources, the commission is now in the process of making its anti-quackery directorate functional for which so far only three appointments have been made — its head and two junior officials. The staff strength needed to make the anti-quackery wing operational in the province is 30 to 40. The directorate has cells for strategic research and development, inspection and enforcement, advocacy, communication and social mobilisation.

Staff training was another area which would take time once appointments were made, the sources said.

The Sindh Healthcare Commission Act was passed in 2013 following a long struggle by doctors over the absence of any regulatory body to look into the increasing cases of medical negligence, violence at hospitals and quackery.

Only three persons appointed for anti-quackery directorate needing up to 40-strong staff

The commission is autonomous and mandated to register all healthcare service providers, grant, cancel and renew licences, regulate the standards, investigate maladministration and malpractice and impose and collect penalties, among a range of other responsibilities under the act.

However, it took the government four years to make it operational and, that too, on court’s intervention. Media reports show that the commission was launched twice: first in 2015 by the then health secretary and later in Feb 2018 by the health minister.

Recalling how the commission came into being, some officials blamed the delays in its operation on lack of bureaucratic and political will.

‘Govt is not to blame for delays’

When contacted, Dr Tipu Sultan, the commission’s chairman, rejected the impression that the government was behind any delays once the commission became operational.

“The whole process for purchase and hiring is being done according to government rules, which is taking time. Offices have also been shifted and now we are working at the Finance and Trade Centre on Sharea Faisal,” he said.

The commission, he pointed out, was ‘functional’ and taking up complaints for investigation. Aggrieved parties could access and get information about the commission through its website.

On anti-quackery directorate, he said the commission had to go through the hiring process for a director twice after one left.

Answering a question about its composition and how complaints could be registered with the commission, he said the body consisted of an honorary chairman, a chief executive officer, seven directors, nine commissioners, a government representative and assistant staff members.

“We have started the registration process (of health facilities) after which they would be given licences after inspection. Any aggrieved party (a doctor, patient or hospital administration) can approach the commission if it’s not satisfied with the outcome of its complaint first registered with relevant health facility,” he said, adding that a separate cell existed to take up anti-quackery complaints.

A mobile application, he said, was also being introduced so that people could check that the physician, homeopath or hakim they wanted to consult was registered with their respective councils.

Dr Mohammad Ayaz Mustafa, who recently took over as the head of the anti-quackery directorate, said the cell would not opt for the “aggressive approach” adopted by the Punjab Healthcare Commission (PHC).

“The PHC mainly focused on taking legal action against quacks and ended up having around 2,000 to 2,500 cases against it. I think we must generate public awareness, a social will about the anti-quackery menace before challenging them head on,” he said.

The cell would also generate real-time data on quacks as currently there were huge gaps in various statistics on the actual number of quacks, he added.

Govt support stressed

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has called upon the Sindh government to support the Sindh Healthcare Commission (SHC) by referring all relevant cases to the regulatory body and making health units functional in the province so that people were not forced to turn to quacks.

“Recently, the case of a child’s death at a hospital was being investigated by the hospital administration and the health department separately, ignoring the fact that the commission is mandated to do such tasks,” said Dr Qaiser Sajjad, representing the PMA.

The commission, he said, couldn’t function properly if it did not get assistance from the government.

“It needs support from district administrations to take action against health facilities engaged in malpractices as well as quacks. Besides, there is a need to create public awareness about the regulatory body so that aggrieved parties, either patient families accusing a health facility of medical negligence or hospital administration/doctor being the target of violence, can register their cases with the body,” he said.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2018