Rawalpindi’s overworked BHC’s now face budget cuts

New district health authority chief says they are working to provide medicines despite cuts


Jameel Mirza February 17, 2019
PHOTO: FILE

RAWALPINDI: Despite their vocal proclamations of focusing on the health sector and improving it, the incumbent Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has sought to slash funds for the sector in Punjab on the pretext of cost-cutting.

As a result, the basic health centres (BHC) in the rural areas of Rawalpindi have access to few medicines more than just basic aspirin.

The government had allocated a budget of some Rs150 million for 110 basic health centres, including 99 urban and 11 rural, in the seven tehsils of Rawalpindi district.

However, the government has now decided to cut this budget by nearly a third to just Rs110 million as part of its measures to cut costs due to lack of funds.

The cuts come despite the fact that there has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of patients at these BHCs over the years, while the population of the Rawalpindi District has increased from 3.36 million in 1998 to 5.4 million in 2017.

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Groaning under the weight of the patients, the Tehsil Headquarters (THQs) Hospitals in the seven tehsils of Rawalpindi are unable to provide standardised health facilities and shift the burden of patients to the three allied hospitals in Rawalpindi, paralysing the healthcare system there.

Apart from lacking sufficient facilities, the BHCs are located in old, crumbling buildings with insufficient space for beds, few doctors and fewer medical equipment apart from a shortage of medicines.

A female patient at the BHC in Mawara said that the only aspirin, paracetamol and cough syrups are available at the centre. Any other medicine prescribed by the doctors has to be procured from the market which cost a lot.

Further, the patient said that while the BHC offers free medical check-ups, it lacks any facility to test blood samples there. As a result, patients have to approach private laboratories to have their blood tested.

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The impact of the cuts or the poor budget is not only impacting the shortage of medicines at BHCs. At the 24 dispensaries in Rawalpindi and the 10 dispensaries in the two cantonment boards of the city, they were being run by dispensers instead of qualified doctors. As a result, dispensaries lack basic medical facilities including sufficient medical equipment.

The Rawalpindi District Health Authority’s newly installed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Muhammad Rashid confirmed the budget cuts.

He added that they were working on ensuring the provisions of medicines at the BHCs despite the budget cuts.

He reassured that BHCs across the district will be supplied with all the requisite medicines soon.

Political interference

Even as the provincial government continues to face the backlash from the alleged political interference in the Benazir Bhutto General Hospital (BBH), the government has moved to politically interfere in the affairs of another health institution in Rawalpindi by stopping a District Health Officer from working.

After Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar visited the Kahuta Tehsil Headquarters Hospital, the chief executive officer of the District Health Authority Dr Khalid Mehmood and Kahuta Deputy District Health Officer (DHO) Dr.Farhat were sacked late last month.

While there was little explanation given officially, the sackings came after a rift between a local legislator and health officers.

While Dr Mehmood left his charge and reported to the provincial health authorities in Lahore, DHO Dr Farhat’s transfer orders were suspended after she approached the service tribunal.

This, however, did not stop the provincial government from appointing Dr.Mazahar Alam from Kallar Sayedan as her replacement.

With little time between the two conflicting orders, the two officials have not been able to complete the charge handing over and taking over formalities.

Meanwhile, Dr Farhat has said that she intends to will file a contempt of court application before the service tribunal against the provincial government.

Dr Mehmood had been sacked after he had formed a fact-finding committee to probe the alleged interference of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) provincial lawmaker Raja Sagheer Ahmed into the affairs of the Kahuta Tehsil Headquarters Hospital (THQ).

Local Health Officer (LHO) Nighat Bibi and Dr Farhat had filed an application with Dr Mehmood calling for an inquiry into Ahmed’s interference allegedly at the behest of his wife, who is deployed in the district health office.

Subsequently, Dr Mehmood had tasked the District Tuberculosis (TB) Officer Dr Sajid Latif with investigating the matter and the district health authority was exploring options of approaching the Punjab Assembly speaker to summon Sagheer as part of the probe.

Earlier in the month, the Punjab government had suspended the BBH Medical Superintendent Dr Tariq Niazi for alleged negligence and launched a probe against him. The move was termed as political interference by the doctors and staff at BBH and they launched a protest.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2019.

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