Doctors speak out against extortionists

Associations call for legislation to offer them security.


Express January 29, 2011

KARACHI: A piece of legislation will soon be put forth in the Sindh Assembly to provide cover to doctors as well as patients in light of the recent spate of violence against doctors, said a member of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Dr Idrees Adhi, at the Karachi Press Club on Friday.

Dr Adhi said that while he is usually known for his association with the PMA, he was speaking from the platform of the Doctors Joint Action Committee.

He expressed concern over the lack of security and protection provided to doctors, who he said, “Serve society but their rights are being violated.” He said that dragging doctors out of their clinics and operation theatres to protest and rally was not the solution and it was the patients who would lose out in such a scenario. Being firm in his resolve to end the “law of the jungle” where doctors are sporadically beaten up, threatened, targeted and killed, he said that the Sindh Assembly needed to follow Punjab’s footsteps, where a similar bill on medical negligence was passed recently. It is suggested the Health Commission Bill propose Rs500,000 in a fine or one year in jail or both as punishment for targeting doctors.

The medical fraternity, especially doctors, have to highlight their own issues. Dr Adhi said that hundreds of medical professionals were receiving constant threats from extortionists. “Just four days ago, a doctor I know told me he was being threatened over the telephone. The number being used to contact him was a web-based line, something the police does not possess the technology to track,” he told journalists. “They called him two days before a doctor in Lyari was shot down, narrating the incident and demanding money if he didn’t want to suffer the same consequence,” he added. “Two days later, Dr Imran Wasi was killed in Lyari after which the doctor (who received the phone threats) was left with no choice but to pay the extortionists.”

Negating that any political party was affiliated with extortionists, Adhi said that they had met members of several parties including Pakistan Peoples Party’s Fauzia Wahab and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Farooq Sattar. They both assured them their party workers were not involved. “We [doctors] feel that a strong political committment is crucial if these problems are going to be resolved.”

In response to a question, Dr Tipu Sultan, president of the PMA (Central), said that as a result of the imminent threats, many doctors were leaving the country. According to him, around 2,800 character certificates have been applied for, indicating the number of medical professionals who are looking for work elsewhere. However, it was later clarified that not all are leaving the country due to security concerns. Some had better opportunities with better remuneration than those offered locally while others are unable to find positions suited to their calibre and skill set in the country.

“Some doctors here who have completed their FCPS [fellowships] are making about Rs15,000 initially whereas they are offered nearly Rs800,000 in places such as Saudi Arabia,” Sultan said.

Adhi added that no real jobs were available at teaching hospitals and the stipends were so meagre that the doctors were barely able to make ends meet. He also suggested the need for a “structured programme for doctor training” along with creating more jobs at the district and taluka levels.

Adhi said that earlier they had called for a rally on January 29, however, they met CCPO Leghari and provincial health minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed at PMA House, to discuss their concerns. For now, they have called off their rally after assurances that their issues are being discussed and will be addressed including the presentation of the bill in the assembly.

The doctors demanded that the chief minister prioritise this issue and forward the Health Commission Bill to the law department for consultations, after which it should be passed in parliament as an ordinance.

The committee also showed appreciation for the four-tier formula as a result of which promotions pending for a long time can be carried out. But the promotions are not on an appropriate time scale and need to be revised further.

Joining the fight for doctors’ rights were the Pakistan Islamic Medical Association, Medical Aid Committee, Peoples Doctors Forum, Pakistan Paediatric Association, Pakistan Orthopaedic Association, ENT Association, Private Hospitals and Clinics Association, JPMC Doctors Association.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th,  2011.

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