There is some positive news for Punjab’s Lady Health Workers who concluded their four-day protest in Lahore on Thursday. A committee has been formed to look into their grievances that remain largely the same as they did over a decade ago ie payment and raising of salaries, service structure, security — and respect. Specifically, this time around, the LHWs have presented a clear list of demands. These include a grade nine notification for their work; grade 14 notification for their supervisors; social security registration; the provision of pension and free healthcare; a 60-hour work week; transport facilities; and an allowance for food and water at work. Formed by Benazir Bhutto in 1994, LHWs provide indispensable services to the country’s poor and marginalised, particularly in the rural and remote parts of the country. Some of the services they provide include awareness of hygiene and sanitation, family planning and contraception, polio eradication, health and nutrition, and midwifery. They also play a vital role in managing TB and hepatitis. A report published last year highlighted the key role of LHWs in the identification and reporting of over 800 cases of TB in rural Sindh in the previous year. Out of the 468,454 people who were verbally screened by the LHWs during their door-to-door visits, 3,987 cases were referred to public and private health facilities, out of which 77pc cases were tested.
In a country with few state-run hospitals and abysmal healthcare facilities — particularly when it comes to primary healthcare, preventable diseases, maternal and infant mortality, which form the foundation of a nation’s healthcare system — the work done by LHWs in providing basic health services cannot be understated. Along with the heavy burden of their work and low salaries, they are subjugated to gender discrimination, harassment and attacks while performing their duties. Despite all their work for the nation, the previous government largely ignored their plight. Time will tell if this government will act differently.
Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019