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Doctors’ strike: The other side of the picture

July 05, 2012

The ongoing doctors’ strike has received a largely negative response from a large section of the society. The narrative of both sides’ i.e doctors and non-doctors is not only different but also opposite. Both sides find it hard to believe the other while siding with their comrades. Doctors, who have suffered for all these years due to the poor policies of successive governments, find it easy to justify going on strikes; while the non-doctors are of the view that doctors should not violate their oaths and should resume work as soon as possible. I have already written in detail from a doctor's perspective and it would be unfair not to present the other side of the story.

In this scorching hot season, with 10-12 hours of load shedding daily, tempers are bound to be on edge. Couple this with the news that doctors, who are supposed to be present for their patients, have stopped working for the sake of pay raises and cars, privileges and 'izzat' – outrage is a justified response. The news of many people dying due to a lack of medical treatment adds fuel to fire. How dare these so-called messiahs turn rogue and end up killing the people that they are supposed to save. Is the life of patients more sacred than BPS-18? Is closing down PIC (Punjab Institute of Cardiology), the only specialist cardiac care centre in a radius of about 200 kilometers, a really good idea? Why do the doctors think they are so special when other professionals are working without the privileges that they demand? (here is a comparison). Why so many strikes, all of a sudden in last 2 years? (thrice in the years 2011-12) Are doctors’ rights more important than patients’ rights? Why do the poor people have to suffer because of inadequacies of the rulers?

As a young doctor, it is very hard for me to reply adequately to all these questions. I have been actively engaging people asking these questions on the social media and have tried to clear as many misconceptions as I humanly could. I've previously written about the issue of morality of a doctors' strike, the fact that closing OPDs does not lead to a loss of lives and that this strike is about service structure formation, not for an increase in pays. What I can't justify is the loss of innocent lives. I have lost all excuses to hide behind as human life is a sacred trust, which shouldn't be used as leverage in this war of egos. I vociferously condemn closure of emergency services, both as a health professional and as a human being.

During the above mentioned social media interactions, I've been branded a killer, a butcher, anti PML-N troll (???), murderer and similar epithets. People have expressed joy on the news of doctors getting arrested/tortured/beaten to death, because they think it is karma (do bad things and bad things will happen to you). I have been advised to either leave the profession or get used to it. As a young doctor, I feel hopeless and depressed about the dead lock that has developed between the Punjab government and doctors after the 'brute force' attack on a doctors hostel and subsequent arrests. My juniors have been asking me what the future holds for them and for our profession, more questions to which I have got no answers. My heart goes out to the arrested people including two of the most soft-spoken and brilliant doctors who helped me throughout my time at medical school, having to share cells with convicted terrorists in Kot Lakhpat Jail. I also find it hard imagine the feelings of the families of the arrested doctors.

As a human being, I am outraged at watching the poorest of poor (who form the majority of patients at government hospitals) suffer at the hands of weather, WAPDA and now, doctors. Doctors are fast losing the battle for the hearts of people whom they are supposed to serve.

A big role has been played by the government of Punjab in propaganda-mongering against doctors, with millions of rupees from the public exchequer spent on advertisements in the media against doctors. The State has successfully transferred the burden of its own inadequacies (only one doctor present for 18 thousand people, six health secretaries changed in the last four years, no health minister for the last four years, budget allocation of 1.8 per cent for health) to the doctors and has not budged an inch on its stance regarding the demands of doctors.

This stand-off needs to end now and it needs to end fast, for the sake of the people who visit hospitals from far flung areas due to a lack of basic medical services in their areas, for the patients who come to OPDs every week because they cannot afford drugs, for the kids suffering from horrible diseases, for the unattended patients that are loaded off to emergencies by rescue services. They don’t have anyone to take care of their health but us, the doctors.


The writer is a medical student with an interest in History, Political Economy and Literature and blogs here. You can follow him @abdulmajeedabid.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.