Confessions of Pakistani doctors
We all grew up hearing the importance of medicine sciences and most of us were encouraged to adopt it as a profession. We were told that serving humanity, saving lives and helping people in distress is an essential component of developed societies, which is truly noble and fulfilling in their own way. In fact, doctors were considered the epitome of prestige and grace in Pakistani society, an echelon which remained unmatched by all the other significant and emerging professions.
However, the situation has changed drastically over a period of time. The plight of Pakistani doctors reverberates across the globe and remains an open question mark to our ‘political leaderships’ and law enforcing agencies. It is not just the security of these professionals which is at stake in our country but it is also the ‘wellbeing’ and ‘health’ of the nation which is impeded by not providing them with protection and justice.
New Year across the world is marked with ceremonies and resolutions, however, the last few days of 2011 were marked by the brutal deaths of various doctors in Pakistan, including police surgeon Dr. Syed Baqir Shah, who was the primary forensic investigator responsible to probe into the famous ‘Kharotabad incident’.
Slain doctors are not an uncommon sight in Pakistan and serve as a deterrent for people to work as one. Saying that the deteriorating political and security situation in the country is threatening everyone, sounds extremely clichéd but it sums up the sense of insecurity which is acting as a noose tightening around our necks, with the passage of every single day.
A young doctor who now serves at New York University Medical Centre, on being asked what brought about his move from Pakistan and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), on the condition of anonymity, said, “When I joined JPMC, I was very excited about my work and practise because the traffic in government hospitals and constant flow of variety of patients help young professionals to learn immensely within a short span of time. I remember being called on emergency duty after a bomb exploded in a local mosque. Ambulances stacked with wounded and dead came pouring in from everywhere which was a traumatic experience in itself.
“However, one of the people representing a local political faction came in with a dead body and pointed a gun at me demanding to ‘cure’ the patient. I was in a state of shock because I knew that the ‘man in question’ was already dead. The ‘pointed gun’ and the man scared the living daylights out of me and I decided to put the ‘corpse’ on ventilator because I knew I had no other way out. From that day onwards I really did not feel thrilled to work for Pakistan or the Pakistani people.”
Another doctor who resigned from Civil Hospital and now runs a private clinic narrated his experience saying, “I left because most of the officials working as Head of the Departments are assigned their respective positions because of their ‘political affiliations’. Moreover, they feel threatened by anyone who has a command over research and is more competent, hence ‘references’ supersede ‘academics’.”
He added, “Induction and career growth through reference is a common ‘modus operandi’ in Pakistan but the reason why I resigned was specifically because of insecurity and injustice prevalent in the government sector. Patients admitted in intensive care units (ICUs) are given priority as per their respective ailments and issues. However, someone with a political background would always demand more attention and his/her ‘accompaniments’ would ‘order’ all the doctors to stand by the bed, neglecting other patients. This generally took place with the help of ‘armed men’ ready to kill the doctors on a whim.”
Death of a political or religious figure generally sparks a spate of vandalism and arson attacks, resulting in further damage to the already derelict government hospitals. Political factors, contributing toward harming doctors and obstructing justice, are depriving Pakistani society with the best of resources.
The exodus of doctors to more civilised countries is bringing about a constant decline in our ‘intellectual pool’ making health facilities more and more expensive. Furthermore, doctors leaving government hospitals for private institutions are creating a gap between the poor masses of Pakistan and appropriate health measures, a gap which is widening by the day.
Brain drain remains one of the many reasons why Pakistan has not progressed much since the time of its establishment. Lack of benefits and being underpaid are clearly not the only factors which ‘shoo’ our doctors away. Defensive mechanisms and proper protection to ensure the interests of doctors are much needed in Pakistan. Without protection brain drain would not cease to continue and will only add on more to our woes and predicaments.
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com