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Raja Khalid Shabbir
Raja Khalid Shabbir

An open letter to Punjab’s health minister

An open letter to Punjab’s health minister

Raja Khalid Shabbir

These are difficult times. The shadow of the virus falls far and wide. Those fighting at the front are handed empty guns and wall-less bunkers. These unarmed “warriors” are forced to walk on the quicksand of death. They desperately need a voice and so I speak directly to the health ministry and the respected doctor running it.

When Punjab voted for you in 2018, the doctor community was at the forefront. We filled the ballot boxes in your favour thinking who could be better for the health sector than a doctor. For the first time, a doctor was elected as Punjab’s health minister.

You took charge of our rusty ship through troubled water. How jubilant were we to be led by someone part of the system, who grew as a doctor in the same rotten system and knew the problems at the grassroots. But soon our ecstasy turned into sorrow as you left your promises and our hopes to sink mid-sea.

Where are you Madam Minister? Doctors and nurses are fighting a lost battle against the deadly pandemic alone. We will not complain about the PPE shortage or lack of preparedness because we know you did not anticipate this. But we will surely ask: where are you Madam Minister? When will our darkest hour end?

Some 10,000 healthcare professionals have been infected in Pakistan so far, and almost 100 have died. The virus is beating us silly and so are patients and their attendants. When we tell patients the truth about their failing organs, they vent their anger on us. When a critically ill patient is brought to the ER, attendants expect the impossible from us.

Doctors do all they can to save every life but some deaths are inevitable. We are either expected to be demigods or angels of death. People are sadly against us to the extent of hitting and humiliating us at our workplace. The pain of being beaten up by the loved ones of the person you were trying to save can never be felt by the ones responsible for our very rights. Madam Minister, the Young Doctors Association sat with you multiple times on the security bill issue, and is looking towards you with crossed fingers.

In a democracy with fundamental rights, the public has a right to healthcare, meaning the government will provide healthcare for free in government hospitals. If the amount of effort put in to bringing the Medical Teaching Institutions Act into Punjab’s health sector was spent towards providing free treatment to the public, things would have been different. The truth is patients have to buy many medicines from private pharmacies because government hospitals do not provide them. Besides being a system to subjugate doctors under a non-medical board of governors, the MTI Act would increase the cost of healthcare as patients would have to pay for more besides medicines. The question here is: how can one overhaul an existing system without bringing doctors on board? Are hospitals under a dictatorship?

A mockery of the efforts of doctors and nurses has been made. Healthcare professionals have done justice to the nobility of their profession and to their oath. They do not demand anything in return. We have made peace with the fact that our country will never own us. We will always be the ‘butcher’ and ‘murderer’. We ask the Almighty for mercy in exchange for our selfless acts. But Madam Minister, how does your leadership justify withholding the risk allowance set for healthcare professionals who worked during the pandemic? How can you give non-medical professionals humanitarian awards and ignore the sacrifice of doctors, nurses and paramedics? How can you let your own community down? Sadly your political side has taken the best of you in Naya Pakistan.

Our healthcare system receives a blow every time a doctor decides to go abroad. When will we start celebrating our own white coat heroes?

Madam Minister, once again we look towards you. If not you, then who?

About Muhammad Jameel

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