HYDERABAD, March 24: The federal government is reluctant to regularise services of agitating 'lady health workers', who are part of the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare despite the fact that the ministry of health is being transferred to provinces under the 18th amendment.

The provinces find it beyond their capacity to run various projects.

The LHWs have been agitating for regularisation of their services at a place on Sindh-Punjab border and the protesting women, led by PML legislator Marvi Memon, were baton charged on Wednesday. Over a dozen of them, along with the MNA, have been booked by police. Their sit-in ended after police used force and restored traffic on a section of the National Highway.

Several projects, including the NPFPPH, are being run now

by the federal government. Inquiries by Dawn revealed that projects of Rs275 billion have been transferred to Sindh by the federation.

A number of ministries have been transferred to the provinces and before June this year departments, including health, would be devolved. The process is being looked after by a committee headed by Senator Raza Rabbani.

Lady Health Workers scheme was launched during second tenure stint of late Benazir Bhutto when 10,000 LHWs women were appointed and the number increased to 30,000 before the Benazir government was ousted. Since then their number has been regularly going up as all successive governments found he programme to be effective one.

Currently, around 100,000 LHWs, health supervisors, accountants and drivers are working in the NPFPPH across the country. Of them, 23,150 are working in the provincial department on a stipend. They were getting a salary of Rs3,500 until Bushra Arain moved the Supreme Court on behalf of the All Pakistan LHW Association in September last year. The court directed the government to pay them in accordance with labour rules with the minimum wages of Rs7,000.“We were told by the federal health department that since health is being transferred to the provinces they will be free either to regularise their services or sack them,” said a health official.

Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah wrote a letter to the federal government, requesting it to resolve the issue but, according to the official, the federal government has not formally responded to the letter. The total cost of programme stood at Rs5 billion and its budget was raised to around Rs11 billion after salaries of LHWs were raised to Rs7000 from Rs3200. Services of LHWs are also used for different immunisation campaigns.

According to MNA Shahnaz Wazir Ali it was for the first time that such a huge transfer of funds, Rs320 billion, was made to provinces to fix their priorities.

LHWs protested outside the Sindh Governor House two months ago, where Sindh health minister Dr Saghir Ahmad had met them.

The LHWs visit 100 houses in a month and the health department allows them to continue with their other job.

They are getting increased salaries since September 2010.

Sindh Secretary Health Syed Hashim Raza Zaidi, who is in Islamabad, told Dawn that the matter was under consideration of the federal government and he would also meet the federal health secretary in this regard tomorrow.

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