619 Basic Health Units in Punjab without doctors

In its election manifesto Pakistan Muslim League-N had promised to strengthen the Basic Health Units (BHUs) in the country but after seven years of the party’s rule in Punjab, as many as 619 BHUs in the province still have no doctors available to treat the patients in rural areas, The News has learnt.

According to certified information collected by this correspondent from 24 districts of the province, there are 1634 posts of doctors in as many BHUs but 38 percent of them are functioning without a doctor.

“Existing Basic Health Units will be strengthened and where possible leased to private Medical practitioners in public–private partnership mode. Help will be provided to qualified doctors who wish to set up new clinics,” says the PML-N manifesto announced before 2013 elections with the claims that health will be given top priority by the party’s government.

However, the data obtained through Punjab Right to Information and Transparency Act 2013 confirms that Lahore is the only lucky district in the entire Punjab province to have all the sanctioned posts of doctors at its 37 BHUs filled.

On the other hand, more than 81% BHUs in districts like Nankana Sahib 1.4m and Narowal 4,29, 876 have no doctor for millions of their residents. According to information provided by Executive District Officer Nankana Sahib has 48 BHUs but 39 of them are almost non functional as there is no doctor available in these units. The district has an estimated population of 1.4 million people.

Similarly in Narowal 47 BHUs has no doctors while only 10 have medical officers available for around 4,29, 876 population of the district.

In Sargodha 78 out of 126 BHUs have no doctors available. In Okara, 62 out of 92 medical centres have no doctors. In Rawalpindi 26 out of 98 basic health units are operating without a doctor. 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.

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.

Previously, talking to The News on the issue, Adviser to Punjab Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique had 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 had said. Khawaja Salman Rafique had claimed that all the vacant posts of doctors will be filled soon under a project being implemented with the help of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Published in The News
Waseem Abbasi
Friday, January 23, 2015