CHINIOT: The decision to recall the staff of the Hepatitis Prevention and Treatment Proramme (HPTP) centre to the Lahore office has sparked an unrest among the people of Chiniot.

They demand the retention of staff and the return of the centre to the Punjab Kidney and Liver Institute (PKLI), as has been done for 18 other similar centres in Punjab districts.

The retention of staff and the centre’s affiliation with PKLI are crucial for the treatment of hundreds of thousands of hepatitis patients in the district.

The Chiniot PKLI centre was established in 2017 in a rented building with 17 medical and paramedical staff. It provided free hepatitis and PCR tests, treatment and vaccination to patients, referring chronic cases to the Lahore PKLI for further treatment.

The district is plagued by a high prevalence of Hepatitis B and C cases due to the presence of unlicensed medical practitioners and the use of non-sterilised equipment by barbers.

From its establishment in 2017 until 2020, the centre treated approximately 48,000 patients. However, the Punjab government downsized the centre’s staff from 17 to 10 and relocated it to the building of the government TB Hospital on Mandar Road. The centre, along with other centres in Punjab, was handed over from PKLI to the Primary and Secondary Health Department of the Punjab government.

Despite these changes, the staff continued to serve patients, providing services to around 18,000 additional patients from 2020 until now. In addition to screening tests, PCR tests, and treatment, the centre also offered online consultations with doctors at the Lahore PKLI through video calls. It provided referral services to chronic patients requiring further treatment at the PKLI in Lahore.

However, a recent notification issued by the Punjab Primary and Secondary Health Department Secretary stated that the centres in various districts would be handed over to PKLI&RC, including those in Kasur, Okara, Hafizabad, Narowal, Nankana Sahib, Jhang, Sheikhupura, Jhelum, Attock, Bhakkar, Mianwali, Bahawalnagar, Khanewal, Muzaffargarh, Lodhran, Pakpattan, Vehari, and Shujaabad (Multan). Only the centres in Chakwal, Chiniot, Rajanpur, Khushab, and Mandi Bahauddin were retained by the Health Department.

However, the staff at these five district centres has been instructed to hand over the machinery and equipment of the HPTP clinics in their respective districts and report to PKLI&RC Lahore for further reassignment.

The district Jamaat-i-Islami emir along with traders, lawyers, and members from NGOs expressed concerns at a press conference that the Chiniot centre would be abandoned once all the staff is recalled to Lahore, leading to significant suffering for patients. They demanded that the caretaker chief minister hand over the centre to PKLI and retain its staff to ensure uninterrupted free treatment and tests for hepatitis patients. They also expressed concerns that it would take a long time for the health department to appoint new staff and procure medicines and supplies for these centres.

Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Asif Raza, who also serves as the administrator of the district health authority (DHA), said the centre would continue to operate under the supervision of DHA, and the staff would be managed using the existing human resources of the authority.

Published in Dawn, June 23rd, 2023

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