KARACHI: Three key federally-run hospitals in Karachi are gearing up for a fight against being sucked into the Sindh government as new legislation makes its way to the Sindh Assembly. Also, students of Sindh Medical College who do not want their institution cut off from the Dow University of Health Sciences are planning a protest.
The hospitals in question are Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), the National Institute of Child Health (NICH) and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases (NICVD). Their officials met on Thursday to decide a course of action. The issue heated up with news that SMC will be elevated to a university and all public hospitals will be handed over to the Sindh government, as outlined in the 18th amendment. The amendment basically translates into devolution or the transfer of powers from the centre to the provinces.
Meanwhile, SMC, adjacent to JPMC, was also abuzz with activity. The federal government has decided to merge it with Jinnah hospital to make them a university. This would mean SMC would lose its affiliation with Dow. “A majority of students are worried about this,” said a second-year student. A first-year student added: “We have formed a committee called the Students Action Committee and held our first meeting today (Thursday). We are also planning a peaceful protest against SMC’s detachment from Dow.”
According to college records, there are currently five batches at SMC, totalling 1,550 students. Initially, students at Dow obtained their degrees from Karachi University, this arrangement concluded in 2003 when Dow Medical College and Sindh Medical College came under the Dow University of Health Sciences.
A close aide to President Asif Ali Zardari, who requested not to be named, confirmed that the elevation of SMC and soon after, the transfer of JPMC to the provincial set-up was being pursued. According to the source, the changes, which require a bill to be tabled in the Sindh Assembly, may be done as soon as the next session. “Earlier on, the students protested because they didn’t want to lose their affiliation with KU and now they will protest about losing their connection to DUHS, but the decision has been made,” the source said firmly.
JPMC executive director Professor Tasnim Ahsan, who usually stays away from the media, said that the issue was “too important” and she felt the need to speak out. “This is the only institution that the founder of the nation himself gave his name to during his lifetime,” she told The Express Tribune. “When discussing an institute for basic sciences this [JPMC] is undoubtedly the biggest centre,” she said, adding that its “thrust had always been on post-graduate education” and therefore it certainly deserved to be “first in line for an elevation (to the status of a university)”.
Listing reasons why JPMC should be maintained by the federation, Ahsan said, “Everyone in the hospital works according to a pre-decided provincial quota which ensures that all provinces and ethnicities are appropriately represented.” While there is both political and ethnic activity on the ground there was “no polarisation”, something the administration fears may become an issue should it be stripped of its federal status.
Furthermore, JPMC caters to about 60,000 federal employees in this city alone. Recalling the day Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Ahsan said Jinnah hospital was the only organisation that remained open. “If the institution is given to the province, it will be divided and lose its edge,” she argued. On the elevation to a university Ahsan said repeated efforts have been made since the initial attempt in 1979. “Ziaul Haq had announced that JPMC would be made a federal university,” she said, adding that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had reiterated the same sentiment during his tenure as well.
But there is a potential technical glitch: in order to be a federal university, JPMC would have to be located in Islamabad. Ahsan suggested, however, that they open a head office in Islamabad, just like the Urdu university. Jinnah would then have a Karachi campus for which NICH already has provided space. The Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad and the federal intermediate board are other examples.
Of course, there is also the possibility that JPMC be elevated to a university with the name Jinnah University of Health Sciences (suggested by the JPMC administration) but be placed under the Sindh health department.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior faculty member at SMC said if the elevation must take place a clear-cut charter would have to be outlined, keeping student wishes in mind. On the issue of payroll and seniority, the source said they would have to be transferred in full, especially in the case of JPMC from federal to provincial status. “This has happened once before when Dow was being elevated and I hope the same confusion and chaos isn’t caused again.”
“The impression created in certain sections of the media, regarding upgrading SMC as a university and JPMC becoming a constituent part of the proposed university is baseless,” said a JPMC statement. “The recently convened meeting on December 28, which was chaired by Salman Farooqui, principal secretary to the president, did not come to any conclusion. The future of JPMC will be decided after its case has been presented to the ‘Implementation Commission’ constituted by the prime minister.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2010.