Over 150 Lady Health Workers (LHWs) rallied outside the Prime Minister Secretariat on Saturday, demanding better security arrangements, regularisation and salaries due since August.
They also demanded that the government pay compensation to the polio health workers who were gunned down in Karachi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). They said they will boycott the anti-polio campaign until their demands are met.
The protesters gathered outside the National Press Club at half past noon and marched towards D-Chowk. They stayed there for two hours, before removing the fences and barbed wires and moving on towards the Supreme Court in the presence of a heavy police contingent. They appealed to Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry to take notice of the treatment being meted out to them.
Afterwards, they camped outside the Prime Minister Secretariat.
“Our lives are at risk. We are being threatened by unknown people to stop administrating polio drops,” said All Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association Chairwoman Bushra Arain. “Most [LHWs] are scared to go door-to-door to vaccinate children.”
Lady health workers camp outside the PM Secretariat on Saturday. PHOTO: ONLINE/AFP
Arain said that while the international agencies had withdrawn their workers from the field, the LHWs are still being “forced” by their superiors to continue the campaign. They are not even provided with security in some cases, she added. The United Nations pulled back its workers from the streets following the unprecedented attacks.
Nine polio health workers have been gunned down in Karachi and parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa since Monday.
LHWs form the backbone of the government’s immunisation campaigns. Even though the government has vowed to continue the campaign without UN support, there is growing concern among the workers about their safety.
Many LHWs are being asked by their families to resign, Arain said. “We demand that the government establish polio centres in each district, so that children can be vaccinated in a secure environment.”
The basic pay of a Lady Health Worker is Rs7,000. During immunisation campaigns, an LHW gets an allowance of Rs250 per day, which Arain deems insufficient to meet the extra expenses.
The protesters dispersed after an hour-long negotiation with Senator Rubina Khalid, who is also a member of the Provincial Task Force for Polio in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Senator Khalid promised she will talk to Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf about their demands.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2012.