KARACHI: Patients reporting at the outpatient departments (OPDs) of public sector hospitals on Tuesday in parts of Sindh had to return home without getting treatment as doctors and paramedical staff boycotted health services in protest, demanding restoration of Covid-19 health risk allowance.
The healthcare providers were protesting on a strike call given by the Grand Health Alliance Sindh which is a conglomerate of the organisations of doctors, paramedics and nurses.
The demands put forward by the alliance include restoration of the health risk allowance on a permanent basis, increase in the house rent allowance, regularisation of all doctors hired on contract basis, issuance of a notification for health professional allowance to all healthcare providers and appointment of nursing and paramedical staff on vacant positions at tertiary care hospitals.
“We believe it’s not just the coronavirus posing a risk to healthcare staff, but also diseases such as hepatitis and HIV. Hence, the risk allowance should be restored on a permanent basis,” said a doctor participating in the protest at Karachi.
The alliance vowed to continue their protest till their demands were met by the government.
The health department has recently notified discontinuation of the health risk allowance on the grounds of “weakening severity of Covid-19 pandemic in the province”.
Under the previous order, the department was giving Rs17,000 to Rs35,000 risk allowance to doctors according to their grade.
OPDs of Liaquat University Hospital (LUH) in Hyderabad also remained closed on Tuesday as paramedics, doctors and nurses there too boycotted their duties in protest against withdrawal of the risk allowance by Sindh government.
Dr Pir Manzoor, general secretary of his own faction of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Sindh, paramedics’ leaders Sharif Palari, Latif Otho, Abdul Majeed Jatoi and others attended a joint protest in an OPD.
Health workers also boycotted OPDs in Bhitai, Qasimabad, Paretabad, Kohsar hospitals and other health centres of the Sindh health department. They demanded that risk allowance should be continued and timescale should also be allowed to health department employees.
Dr Pir Manzoor said that when the government had announced the health risk allowance, it had also agreed to discuss 23 points relating to service structure, Shuhada package for those health professionals who died due to the coronavirus etc, but only the allowance was given and that too only for three months (July-Sept). He said that acceptance of other demands was still pending.
He said the boycott would continue till Thursday and then future strategy would be discussed.
Another PMA Sindh chapter general secretary Dr Rafiq Khokhar in a separate statement expressed resentment over finance department’s notification regarding discontinuity of risk allowance from Oct 1 for front-line healthcare employees fighting the pandemic.
He said the second wave of coronavirus was there and Covid-19 cases were increasing daily across Sindh. At this stage, the notification would do irreparable damage to fight against Covid-19.
He demanded of the Sindh chief minister and health minister to issue directives to withdraw notification in order to end unrest amongst the health professionals.
Employees of Shaikh Hamadan Bin Muhammad Hospital Khanpur Mahar of Ghotki district also boycotted the OPDs in protest against stoppage of the allowance.
According to reports, they held the protest in the lead of Alam Khan Sial, Khalid Mahar, Kaleemullah Gabol, Mir Hazar Mahar, Hari Ram, Hayat Gadani and others.
According to the protesters, the Sindh government was still asking them for performing corona-related duty, but the risk allowance was stopped, which was a big injustice to the paramedical staff. They were compelled to hold the protest for their genuine demands, they said.
They said the doctors, paramedical and nursing staff were fighting against a dangerous pandemic like the coronavirus, putting their family members at a higher risk, but the Sindh government had stopped the risk allowance.
Employees of Khangarh dispensary also boycotted the OPD and held a protest.
Doctors and paramedical staff also boycotted the OPDs in the Civil Hospital of Mirpurkhas in protest against stoppage of coronavirus health risk allowance by the health department.
Hundreds of patients coming from far-off places suffered a lot in the protest as they had to return without getting treatment.
The healthcare providers also held a protest sit-in on the premises of the hospital while raising slogans in support of their demands.
Published in Dawn, October 14th, 2020