No doctor in 284 Basic Health Units of 13 Punjab districts

ISLAMABAD: Despite slight improvement in health facilities, at least 284 Basic Health Units (BHU) are operating without doctors in only 13 districts of Punjab, official figures revealed.

In its election manifesto Pakistan Muslim League-N had promised to strengthen the Basic Health Units (BHUs) but according to certified information collected by The News, out of 1011 Basic health units in these major districts of Pakistan’s largest province around one third are operating without a medical officer.

Around 72% BHUs in provincial capital’s neighbouring district of Nankana Sahib are working without doctors. The district with 1.5 million people has 48 BHUs but only 13 have doctors available while 35 are just buildings.

In Sargodha, one of the larger districts of the province, 51 Basic health units have no doctor available. The district has 127 BHUs in total. According to certified information 47 BHUs of Okara district have no doctors available while in Jhelum 27 are working without doctors.

The information was provided by the respective district health officers under the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Act 2013. According to health experts, BHUs are first line of defense against epidemics and diseases. “Availability of doctors can save lives. Medical officers in BHUs 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 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 the latest figure show a slight improvement in doctors’ availability as compared to last year, when 329 posts were vacant in BHUs.  Despite repeated requests Adviser to Punjab Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique did not comment on the issue.

However, previously talking to The News on the issue, 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 several years of its 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.

The manifesto of PML-N announced before 2013 elections says: “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.”

According to Economic Survey of Pakistan 2016, currently there are 5464 basic health units in the country. The country’s public health care system comprises of 1167 hospitals, 5695 dispensaries, 675 rural health centers, 733 mother and child health centers and allied medical professionals. The ratio of one doctor per 1038 person, one hospital beds for 1613 person and one dentist for 11513 persons shows a clear inadequacies particularly in case of dentists and hospital beds.

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