KARACHI: Amid reports that a doctor posted for Covid-19 duties in Kashmore district had recently committed suicide after experiencing financial hardships, representatives of young doctors hired last year under the Sindh Epidemic Act demanded on Monday that the government immediately release their salaries pending for months.

Dr Qadir Nawaz Jakhrani was posted at the Taluka Headquarter Hospital, Kashmore.

Speaking to Dawn, Dr Hussain Chandio, a friend of Dr Jakhrani and president of the Covid-19 Doctors’ Forum, part of Young Doctors Association, said the doctor took his life a week ago.

“We didn’t highlight his death in the media because we thought the matter would be politicised. Recently, however, his family contacted us in Karachi and told us that he took this extreme step out of frustration following persistent denial by the health department to pay his salary pending for the past few months.”

Dr Jakhrani was married with three children and the sole breadwinner of his family, he added.

‘We haven’t been paid [our salaries] for six months

According to Dr Chandio, the health department hasn’t paid salaries since Nov 15 to a significant number of contractual staff.

“The department has paid the staff performing Covid-19 duties in 14 districts while the rest in 16 districts have been waiting for their salaries since Nov 15,” he said, describing the government’s attitude as highly unfair and cruel.

Meanwhile, the district health officer, Kashmore, in a letter to the director general of health, Hyderabad, has blamed the death on “mental health issues” that the doctor had been facing for quite some time.

“Dr Qadir Nawaz Jakhrani was sincere to his duties and did a wonderful job in Covid-19 sampling at the taluka headquarter hospital in Kashmore and fighting against the Covid-19 virus. Unfortunately, Dr Qadir Nawaz was suffering from mental health issues and was under the treatment of a psychiatrist.

“Suddenly, the news came on the media on April 14, 2021, that the above-named doctor has committed suicide at home by hanging himself from a ceiling fan,” the letter says.

The health department had hired 1,100 doctors and 600 nurses for Covid-19 duties last year on a contractual basis. The staff has also been assured of job regularisation a few times, but there hasn’t been any notification by the government so far on their status.

“We were hired for 89 days and our contract has been renewed for the fourth time. And, while we are continuously performing Covid-19 duties at the risk of our lives, the government doesn’t pay us on time. In fact, this time, we haven’t been paid for six months,” said an affected doctor currently posted at the Kidney Centre in Landhi.

Inquiry body set up

The young doctors have also received support from the Pakistan Medical Association, Sindh chapter.

In a press statement, the association has expressed great sorrow over Dr Jakhrani’s death and demanded that the government institute a fair inquiry into the incident and order immediate release of his salary and award a substantial amount to the aggrieved family in compensation.

“The reason behind this tragic incident is that he wasn’t receiving his salary for the past few months, though he was performing his Covid-19 duties. This is shameful, to say the least. The PMA Sindh strongly condemns this inhumane behaviour of the Sindh government for neglecting the genuine rights of the people who are selflessly performing their duties,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the government has set up an inquiry committee to investigate Dr Jakhrani’s death, which is required to submit its report within three days. Its members are: Dr Tasleem Khamisani (chairman), the medical superintendent of the GMM Medical College Hospital, Sukkur, Dr Jameel Ahmed Mahar, the director of health services, Sukkur, and Dr Inayat Awan, an associate professor of psychiatry at the GMM Medical College, Sukkur.

“While there has been some delay in salaries’ release to some doctors, the government hasn’t stopped the salary of anyone. The same will be released once the relevant district health officer submits the performance report of the doctors concerned,” replied a health department spokesperson when asked about the non-payment of salaries.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2021

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