But what about the patients? No one is giving a second thought to this important question. Dozens of people have died due to a prolonged strike by doctors in the Punjab province of Pakistan. The strike, which has entered its 37th day, was started by young doctors serving in public hospitals of the Punjab, who were demanding better remunerations and working environment. Their cause has gained momentum and has found allies in doctors working in other provinces of Pakistan. Senior doctors remained on the fringes in the start but since have decided to join the protests.
In Rawalpindi, a few miles from Islamabad and a major garrison town, junior doctors have stopped seeing patients in the emergency room; they are already on a boycott from the outpatient department. There is a skeleton presence of doctors in inpatient department, intensive care, and operation theaters. This is what has caused a surge in death toll as patients are not getting the care they need. The boycott of emergency services is the biggest blow to poor patients who cannot afford visiting private hospitals for treatment.
"I have stomach ulcer and I know it can burst any time but I am unable to get any treatment," said a middle-aged man outside the main public hospital in Rawalpindi. "I cannot afford paying thousands of Rupees in a private clinic but I am afraid I have to sell a few belongings to finance my treatment," he added.
Doctors have their grievances too. "I get 17,000 Rupees (USD 200) a month and have to stay at the hospital for as long as 20 hours a day. I spend my weekends in the hospital but don't get any extra allowances. You tell me why should I not protest for my rights?" said a young female doctor, who was wearing a black armband.
Punjab government has started hiring replacements and has already fired some protesting doctors. This has, however, not eased the situation where some of the new appointees have joined the protests after submitting their resignations. Both the doctors and the Punjab government currently stand firm on their respective positions. The government wants the doctors to resume their duties but the latter wants a 100% increase in salaries, among other demands.
Pakistani medical students undergo six years of education and training after finishing high school. They are hired as junior doctors in hospitals and clinics and form the backbone of public health system. Senior doctors complete another four years of postgraduate training and supervise the junior staff. Public healthcare is in a shambles in Pakistan as the government spends less than 1% of GDP on this sector.