The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has announced its intention to boycott the ongoing polio drive in the district.
According to several PMA officials, health officials in the district have decided to boycott the polio drive following the local administration’s decision to hand over control of basic health units (BHUs) to NGOs in the district. “There are enough problems within the health sector already, the last thing we need to do is hand it over to private bodies with their own agenda’s,” said a PMA official Javed Gul. “The condition of BHUs in this district is abysmal and they are in desperate need of upgrades, however, the solution is not to hand them over to NGOs. The government seems to think this is the solution to everything. Whenever a department isn’t performing they think about giving it to someone else rather than taking responsibility,” he said. “This is what they are doing with the Railways and there is talk about privatisation. The same thing cannot be done with the health sector as it will compromise the lives of thousands of people,” he added.
The protesters said that the decision to hand over BHUs to NGOs would compromise the future of thousands of poor people. “For most people in rural areas, BHUs provide the only access to medical care. Even though the BHUs are woefully underfunded they still need to be under public control. If they are handed over to NGOs the services will no longer be free,” said DHQ Hospital Dr Waseem Sadiq.
The announcement to boycott the polio campaign was made by PMA Southern Punjab president Dr Javed in a convention of Health staff from Divisional Basic Health Centres. “The polio campaign is a massive campaign funded by the government and the only way to get their attention is to take a stand. The decision to hand over BHUs will affect just as many people as Polio,” said a protester Arish Masih.
On the occasion, the divisional health staff passed a unanimous resolution demanding that the Punjab government review its decision. “The government needs to stop searching for escape routes in every thing that goes wrong. The BHUs need better management and upgrades but this should be done by the government. BHUs fall under ‘public health’ and they need to be dealt with as such,” said basic health centre worker Misbah Haroon. The staff also decided that from Monday onwards, all basic health units in the Dera Ghazi Khan would observe a token strike from 12 to 2 pm against the government decision.
“I don’t see what one thing has to do with the other. I support the call to protest against BHUs being handed over to NGOs but I cannot support boycotting the polio drive,” said paediatrician Dr Rukhsana Shah. “Where does it say that helping one public health cause requires compromising another?” she added.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2011.