Healthcare crisis worsens after police thrash protesters

Published November 12, 2022
(clockwise) In an outrageous act of disrespect, police blast women protesters with a water cannon to stop them from entering the ‘sacrosanct’ Red Zone; police use what appears to be the ‘neck restraint’ technique to hold down a woman on the ground; an elderly woman is pulled by the hair and beaten by police; and from the other side of the barrier a woman looks helplessly at her colleague, who is surrounded from all sides by officers on Friday.—Shakil Adil/White Star
(clockwise) In an outrageous act of disrespect, police blast women protesters with a water cannon to stop them from entering the ‘sacrosanct’ Red Zone; police use what appears to be the ‘neck restraint’ technique to hold down a woman on the ground; an elderly woman is pulled by the hair and beaten by police; and from the other side of the barrier a woman looks helplessly at her colleague, who is surrounded from all sides by officers on Friday.—Shakil Adil/White Star

KARACHI: Amid ‘belated’ efforts aimed at breaking the stalemate, a police action infuriated the protesting healthcare providers on Friday and they threatened to close down all government hospitals in Sindh if their arrested colleagues were not released.

The prolonged crisis at public sector hospitals across Sindh may turn worse if the doctors, nurses and paramedics demanding restoration of health risk allowance for over a month translate their threat into action.

The situation developed after the police prevented healthcare workers gathered in front of DJ Science College on Friday evening from marching towards the Chief Minister’s House, made use of water cannons, manhandled protesters and arrested several of them, including women.

Sources said the police action created a chaos and traffic jam on Dr Ziauddin Ahmed Road and adjoining arteries, causing huge inconvenience to commuters.

“If the police didn’t release all our colleagues immediately, emergency services at hospitals will be shut across the province on Saturday,” warned Dr Faizan Memon of the Young Doctors Association, part of the Grand Health Alliance (GHA), a representative body of young doctors, nurses and paramedics. Over 200 healthcare workers were under arrest, including 50 doctors, he added.

He alleged that the police baton-charged protesters, tore off the clothes of nurses and that the government officials ‘deceived’ them.

“When water cannons were used against us, we were about to disperse after talks with the deputy commissioner South and police officials,” he said.

Healthcare services at outpatient departments of public sector hospitals have already been closed for over a month on account of the boycott by healthcare providers, creating inexplicable difficulties for poor patients.

The police action in the evening also led to protests outside the Karachi Press Club where dozens of health workers chanted slogans against the government, law enforcers, demanding release of their detained leaders and resumption of health risk allowance.

Source said the use of police force also neutralised the impact of the “redressal committee” that the government notified earlier in the day for negotiations with the GHA. The committee comprised the provincial ministers for information, local government, labour, and the finance and health secretaries.

Police officials, however, claimed that the protesters rejected the notification when they were asked to vacate the main artery.

“They demanded the health minister personally visit them and assure them their demands will be accepted,” SSP-South Syed Asad Raza said.

He went on to say that the protesting doctors and paramedics had blocked the main road, causing trouble for commuters.

“As a result, police called in the riot squad which used water cannons to disperse them and detained 25 protesters, including 10 women,” he said.

Doctors’ bodies condemn police action

The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) and the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (Pima) – two major representative bodies of senior doctors – have condemned the police action and use of force against healthcare workers.

“We strongly condemned the police action. It’s very unfortunate that the government, instead of talking to the protesters, chose to use force and arrest them,” said Dr Qaiser Sajjad of the PMA, describing health workers’ demand for the restoration of risk allowance as ‘genuine’.

The Covid-19 threat, he pointed out, was not over yet. “Besides, health professionals in other provinces are still getting the allowance. The decision to withdraw the allowance is unfair given the fact that doctors are working in the flood-affected areas.”

Dr Sajjad also recalled that the government had not fulfilled its promise of paying compensation to the “Shaheed” doctors who died while performing the Covid-19 duties.

“These doctors should have been honoured and their families looked after by the government. But we saw that there was no official acknowledgement of their services at any level. In fact, the provincial health minister recently used abusive words for the doctors demanding restoration of the allowance,” he added.

In a statement, the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (Pima) Karachi chapter also expressed its concern over the police action and arrests.

“We demand that the government resolve the issue through dialogues. The protests have led to closure of OPDs and postponement of surgeries, which has compounded miseries of poor patients,” Prof Abdullah Muttaqi representing Pima said.

Published in Dawn, November 12th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

X post facto
19 Apr, 2024

X post facto

AS has become its modus operandi, the state is using smoke and mirrors to try to justify its decision to ban X,...
Insufficient inquiry
19 Apr, 2024

Insufficient inquiry

UNLESS the state is honest about the mistakes its functionaries have made, we will be doomed to repeat our follies....
Melting glaciers
19 Apr, 2024

Melting glaciers

AFTER several rain-related deaths in KP in recent days, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority has sprung into...
IMF’s projections
Updated 18 Apr, 2024

IMF’s projections

The problems are well-known and the country is aware of what is needed to stabilise the economy; the challenge is follow-through and implementation.
Hepatitis crisis
18 Apr, 2024

Hepatitis crisis

THE sheer scale of the crisis is staggering. A new WHO report flags Pakistan as the country with the highest number...
Never-ending suffering
18 Apr, 2024

Never-ending suffering

OVER the weekend, the world witnessed an intense spectacle when Iran launched its drone-and-missile barrage against...