LAHORE: Dozens of doctors and nurses have launched a hunger strike demanding adequate protective equipment for frontline staff treating coronavirus patients, the lead organiser of the protest said on Saturday.
Health workers have complained for weeks that the country's hospitals are suffering chronic shortages of safety gear, prompting the arrest of more than 50 doctors who called for more supplies in Quetta earlier this month.
The Young Doctors' Association (YDA) claimed that the frontline staff have been left vulnerable, with more than 150 medical workers testing positive for the virus nationwide.
The protesters have kept working in their hospitals while taking turns to demonstrate outside the health authority offices in Lahore.
"We do not intend on stopping until the government listens to our demands. They have been consistently refusing to adhere to our demands," said Dr Salman Haseeb.
Haseeb heads Punjab’s Grand Health Alliance, which is organising the protest.
"We are on the frontline of this virus and if we are not protected then the whole population is at risk," he said.
The alliance said about 30 doctors and nurses were on hunger strike, with up to 200 medical staff joining them each day for demonstrations.
Punjab's health worker unions are supporting the alliance and also demanding adequate quarantine conditions for medical staff.
Nearly three dozen doctors, nurses and paramedics contracted the virus in one hospital in Multan, while seven members of a doctor's family were infected in Lahore, it added. "We are simply demanding justice for our community," said YDA chairman Khizer Hayat.
Hospital staff would not escalate their protest by walking off the job, he added. Provincial health department officials told AFP that hospitals had now been provided adequate protection gear after an earlier "backlog" was resolved.
Earlier this month the Punjab government announced that frontline workers would be awarded a pay bonus and life insurance.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 26th, 2020.