310 out of 732 Punjab BHUs working sans doctors

ISLAMABAD: Despite claiming success for the construction of mega projects in big cities, the Punjab government has failed to ensure the provision of basic health facilities to almost half of its population, official documents have confirmed.

According to the data collected by this correspondent from 10 districts of the Punjab under the Punjab Right to Information and Transparency Act 2013, out of 732 basic health units in these districts, 310 are operating without any medical officer. The certified information has been provided by the executive district officers (EDOs) Health of these districts under the new RTI law. The information requests were sent separately to all districts of the province on October 21, 2014, but a majority of the districts have failed to respond under the legal time framework. According to the figures, provided by the EDO (Health) Okara, about 62

Basic health units are functioning without a doctor in his district alone. Okara is a key district of the Punjab with a population of 2.2 million people according to 1998 Census. The district had 96 basic health units, but only 34 are blessed with a doctor.

Similarly, in District Sargodha, 78 BHUs have no trained doctor available. The district has a population of around three million and there are 126 BHUs, but only 48 are filled.

According to local residents, people have to walk for miles to reach their respective basic health units only to find out that there is no doctor available in their “official hospital”.

Health experts believe many lives could be saved by only deputing qualified medical officer in rural areas. “These medical officers can provide life saving support to emergency patients in far flung areas. But the absence of trained doctors in rural areas sometime proves fatal for the poor patients,” said senior former director Accidents and Emergency at Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Dr Waseem Khawaja.

He said in the absence of doctors, people of rural areas turned to quacks who complicate their medical conditions with dangerous treatments.

“Sometime we receive patients with irreparable damage to their organs because they had been treated by quack in remote areas of the country,” Khawaja added. He said one of the reasons for the shortage of medical officers in rural areas is the open merit policy in medical colleges which results in more female doctors.

“In our country, many female doctors refuse to work in rural areas and remote owing to cultural and security reasons. Therefore, there is a need for 50% quota for male students to ensure every village has a doctor available,” he added.

According to official data collected from each district separately, Sialkot district has 88 sanctioned posts for doctors in BHUs, but 33 units have no doctors available as their posts are vacant.

In Muzaffargarh, out of 71 sanctioned posts of medical officers in BHUs 12 are vacant, in Kasur 25 BHUs are operating without doctors.

In Bhakkar, 19 BHUs have no doctor while the district has total 39 health units. Mandi Bahauddin has 49 BHUs, but 18 have no doctor available.

In Toba Tek Singh, 8 out of 70 BHUs have no doctors. In Sahiwal vacant posts of doctors in BHUs are 30. In Chiniot, only 11 BHUs have doctor while 25 are almost non-functioning owing to absence of doctors.

While contacted, Adviser to Punjab Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique admitted that rural areas are facing shortage of trained medical officers, but claimed that provincial government is working to resolve the issue. When asked why the PML-N’s provincial government failed to resolve the issue in last over six years of his rule, he said there were funding constraints.

“The government had to pay hard area allowance to medical officers working in remote parts of the province. This demands a big budget which was not available,” he said.

However, he did not mention the spending of billions on mega road projects while highlighting the shortage of funds.

Khawaja Salman Rafique claimed that all the vacant posts of doctors will be filled in next few months under a project being implemented with the help of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

“We have already advertised the majority of posts in newspapers and hiring will be made soon,” he said. He said the provincial government is also working on a proposal to outsource the healthcare facilities in rural areas.
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