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PESHAWAR: The government is establishing the first-ever medical college in Parachinar, Kurram tribal district, as part of its package worth Rs14 billion announced by the centre for the development of healthcare infrastructure in the newly merged districts.

Construction of Parachinar Medical College has been reflected in the Annual Development Programme and an amount of Rs15 million has been allocated for the project in the 2019-20 budget, according to doctors. It will be completed at a cost of Rs600 million over a period of three years.

Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram, has been selected due to its geographical location as it is the most accessible tribal district of the total seven agencies formerly known as Fata. The people of Hangu, Orakzai, North Waziristan and parts of Khyber can easily reach Kurram.

The establishment of the medical college was announced by former premier Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in mid 70s but it was built in Abbottabad and funds allocated for it were utilised there. A plan of setting up the college was devised in 2004 and then in 2013 but it didn’t take off owing to political considerations.

The government requires a college for tribal students, who presently get admission to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa-based medical colleges on quota reserved for backward areas. The previous plans also included abolition of tribal seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa once the college started inducting students in tribal areas.

About 160 tribal students get admission in 10 public sector colleges of the province every year. The college, medical educationists say, can also offer seats to students from Afghanistan on scholarships by Pakistan government.

Twelve students from Afghanistan are admitted to the province’s medical colleges every year. It was longstanding demand of tribal people to get medical education in their own areas.

Paperwork for the project, announced by Chief Minister Mahmood Khan a few months ago, will begin after getting details from government to undertake search for land and designing etc, which are basic steps.

Meanwhile, the district headquarters hospital Parachinar will be upgraded to 500-bed from its existing strength of 176 in addition to acquiring the services of faculty for basic medical sciences, a requirement by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council, regulator of the medical education, for recognition of medical college.

Prime Minister Imran Khan had announced medical colleges in North and South Waziristan during his public meetings in November as part of the government’s programme to improve healthcare services in the militancy-stricken tribal districts.

A PC-1 for the college will be prepared after approval of the programme by the cabinet to pave way for work on the college in which 100 students from the tribal districts will be admitted.

The financial assistance announced by the federal government for the erstwhile Fata after its merger will be spent to upgrade healthcare delivery network hit hard by absenteeism and unwillingness by employees. Employees are hesitant to be posted in the area owing to lack of security as result of which 979 health facilities with 8,796 workers have failed to provide healthcare to five million population of the tribal districts.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019