3 children die at Karachi’s NICH as strike by healthcare providers continues

Published November 9, 2022
(Clockwise) The fallout of paramedics and doctors’ protest is visible on Sharea Faisal in the shape of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Tuesday; the protesters stage a sit-in near the Karachi Press Club; and the healthcare providers are held back by women police from entering the ‘Red Zone’. 
—Shakil Adil / Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / Online
(Clockwise) The fallout of paramedics and doctors’ protest is visible on Sharea Faisal in the shape of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Tuesday; the protesters stage a sit-in near the Karachi Press Club; and the healthcare providers are held back by women police from entering the ‘Red Zone’. —Shakil Adil / Fahim Siddiqi / White Star / Online

• Five female nurses among 15 held as police stop protesters from marching on CM House
• Motorists, commuters suffer due to massive traffic jams, closure of arteries
• Grand Health Alliance demands restoration of Covid risk allowance in Sindh

KARACHI: Three patients died at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) on Tuesday as healthcare providers continued their boycott of health services across Sindh while police detained over a dozen paramedics and nurses trying to march on the Chief Minister’s House.

The stand-off between the police and protesters led to a traffic chaos as the law enforcers closed Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road and other adjoining roads leading towards the CM House.

Sources said medical workers under the umbrella of the Grand Health Alliance (GHA) gathered outside the Karachi Press Club in large numbers in the morning and raised slogans for their demands. Later, they moved towards the Sindh Secretariat where they staged a sit-in.

But when some of the protesters attempted to move towards the CM House, the police had to intervene, said SSP-South Syed Asad Raza.

“The police took action and detained around 15 protesters, including five female nurses, who were later released. The 10 male protesters would likely be released soon,” he said, adding that senior health officials were engaged in negotiations with the GHA protesters representing young doctors, paramedics, nurses and other health workers.

But Dr Faizan Memon of the Young Doctors Association, part of the GHA alliance, said the talks with the government officials had not yielded any positive outcomes so far.

“It has been over a month that young doctors and paramedics have been protesting, but the government hasn’t shown any interest in our genuine demands. During this time, the government has held two meetings of the Sindh Cabinet, but our demands were not taken up.”

The main demand, Dr Memon pointed out, pertained to the Covid-19 risk allowance which the government had been withholding since the last month.

“Another demand is related to creating vacancies for dentists. Over the last 15 years, the Sindh government hasn’t announced vacancies for dentists despite the fact that more than 5,000 dentists are jobless.”

The protesters were also demanding improvement in the service structure and a promotion policy.

Deaths at NICH

While poor patients across Sindh have been facing inexplicable difficulties for over a month due to healthcare providers’ protest, sources described the situation at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) as “very serious”.

The institute is the largest tertiary care government hospital for children in Karachi catering to needs of patients from all over Sindh as well as Balochistan. The hospital saw the death of three children on Tuesday amid a strike by healthcare workers.

“It’s tough to say that the strike was responsible for the deaths. But, yes, we have been facing a lot of problems in patient management as the entire government staff has been on a complete strike since yesterday and we are left with limited privately-hired staff,” said an NICH official, adding that the staff earlier was on a partial strike.

About the deaths, he said two children under treatment in the intensive care unit died while another one brought in critical condition in the emergency section could not be saved.

“We are being forced to refuse emergencies and refer them to other hospitals while in-house patients are being discharged as soon as they get stable,” he shared, adding that acute staff shortage had hit all the sections of the facility.

No solution in sight

Amid the boycott and protests at public sector hospitals, the sources said, what was perhaps more unfortunate was government silence. In fact, they said, the impasse between the parties was getting bitter.

On Monday, the government relieved the medical officer of the Ghulam Muhammad Mahar Medical College Hospital, Sukkur, “as he refused to perform duty and left the city without headquarters’ permission” and suspended a lady health supervisor in Jacobabad.

The second notification came in “pursuance” of a court order in a case regarding “unlawful strike/refusal to provide care at public sector health facilities”.

In Larkana, lady health workers boycotted their regular duties and assembled outside the local press club in protest against the health department for abruptly slashing their risk allowance and suspending their leader Bushra Arain.

They appealed to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Sindh chief minister and health minister for issuing a notification of restoring the risk allowance.

The health department last month withdrew the Covid-19 risk allowance on grounds that the pandemic no longer posed a threat to the population.

The allowance was announced over two years ago when the pandemic had struck the country. An amount of Rs17,000 was given to the healthcare providers from grade one to 16 whereas Rs35,000 to those above grade 16. It was discontinued in 2020 as well, but later was resumed following protests.

Published in Dawn, November 9th, 2022



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