On April 6, Monday, more than 50 doctors were detained in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta for participating in a protest to demand personal protection equipment (PPE) for health workers battling the COVID-19 emergency in the country. The protests were held outside the office of the chief minister of Balochistan province. The doctors’ union has accused the security forces of using force against them and other health workers.
Led by the Young Doctors’ Association of Balochistan, the protesters accused the authorities of failing to provide the promised essential medical gear and PPEs to health workers and doctors in the State. According to the union, at least 67 of its members were detained by the police following the protest.
Even after a release order was issued, one of the protesting doctors, Rahim Khan Babar, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying, “Doctors refused to leave, because no steps have been taken. Doctors came out for equipment, and you beat them and then locked them up. What kind of law is that?”
The organizers stated that doctors across Balochistan would be on strike in non-critical care wards on Tuesday to protest the arrests and the lack of essential equipment.
As per the Grand Health Alliance, an organization of health workers, unions have repeatedly urged authorities to provide health workers PPEs for their safety and to ensure that they do not pose a risk to others.
Meanwhile, health workers in the country have complained that even ordinary face masks have not been provided to them despite repeated appeals. Some workers allege that they were forced to use plastic bags as gloves to protect themselves inside hospitals.
Due to the lack of protective gear, dozens of health workers have been found to be carriers of COVID-19. So far, two doctors have lost their lives battling the crisis. 27-year-old Osama Riaz from Gilgit in Baltistan was screening COVID-19 patients when he started showing symptoms and later succumbed to the virus.
The Pakistani government spends less than 2% of its GDP on health and it is estimated that only one doctor is available for every 1,500 people and one hospital bed for every 2,000.
Since February, the number of COVID-19 cases across Pakistan has reached 3,378 and at least 54 people have lost their lives. In Balochistan province, as many as 18 doctors have been infected, while the total number of patients has crossed 200.
The whole world is saluting the doctors for their contribution & fight against corona. In Quetta, Pakistan, they r tortured, arrested & humiliated jst 4 demanding protection kits. #Sharmnak@mazdaki @GulBukhari pic.twitter.com/TD0YO4FAW5
— Zarak khan (@zarak_khaan) April 6, 2020