FATA, KP women’s health care suffers from militancy

Female healthcare workers stop working in militancy-hit areas

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

2010-11-06

PESHAWAR – The militancy brought a different kind of pain to Amjad Ali’s family.

“(My wife) cried all the way from Mir Ali to Peshawar and later ended up with delivering a premature dead baby through caesarean,” said Amjad, 28, a schoolteacher in North Waziristan Agency.

“Lady doctors and nurses left the hospital due to fear of militants three years back, and the female patients are the worst sufferers,” he told Central Asia Online outside the Labour Room of the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

The unwillingness of woman healthcare professionals to work in militancy-hit areas has deprived many of proper medical care.

The lack of female doctors and nurses has put female patients in precarious situations, Dr. Jamila Shah, in charge of the Labour Room, said. One problem is that they develop complications because they delay transportation from the militancy-hit areas to Peshawar.

FATA health centres close

The government in August closed 450 community health centres in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) because of unwillingness by the staff, especially women, to work there, Dr. Ghulam Nabi of the health directorate said.

And 180 of 274 outlets have closed in North Waziristan, a hub of militant activity.

The number of female patients at FATA’s health facilities has decreased since 2005, Dr. Fawad Khan of the health directorate said. In 2006, more than 70,000 women received treatment in FATA, he said. That number has dropped steadily to 9,234 in 2010 through September.

The number of women having surgery has similarly fallen, from 3,467 in 2008 to only 445 so far this year, Khan said. Female patients are reluctant in the male-dominated society to have male doctors examine them, even when female doctors largely have disappeared.

“During the past three years, about 10 female health workers and 2 doctors have been killed and 187 other received injuries at the hands of militants. Now all are afraid,” he added.

The Taliban don’t approve of women as doctors and nurses and have attacked health workers in the past in Afghanistan, Dr. Zalmay, an Afghan doctor, said.

“Now they are employing the same strategy in Pakistan’s tribal areas,” he told Central Asia Online.

Taliban attacks medical workers

The list of terrorist attacks on medical workers is long. Militants killed six Pakistani medical staff March 10, including two women working for World Vision in Mansehra District. The NGO had been previously threatened with violence for hiring female health workers.

Two nurses received injuries during the polio campaign in Mohmand Agency last January. Militants oppose oral polio vaccine campaigns, claiming they are foreign plots to reduce the Muslim population. More than 40 children have tested positive for polio in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“In December last year, one nurse died and a lady doctor sustained injuries when militants hurled a hand grenade at the Agency Headquarters Hospital Miranshah. All the female health professionals have left the hospital since,” Dr. Nabi said.

In February 2008, a roadside bomb killed Bajaur Agency surgeon Dr. Abdul Ghani Khan and injured three health department officials. In May 2009, nine female health workers conducting a survey were kidnapped in North Waziristan, though their abductors released them eventually.

“We are offering attractive salaries to female health workers, but they are reluctant to work in militancy-battered areas,” said Dr. Jawad, a senior health official at the FATA health directorate.

On paper, 72 specialists, 495 medical officers, 62 female doctors and 209 nurses are available to serve the 5m people of FATA, but in reality it’s hard to find a single one.

“I have been working in Agency Headquarters Hospital Bajaur Agency for the past 15 years. I resigned because of threats I received from militants,” Gul Nasreen, a resident of Charmang Bajaur Agency, said. She now works in a private hospital in Peshawar, where she feels safe.

Nurses reject Swat job offers

Last May, 400 nurses rejected postings to Swat.

“We had appointed those nurses especially for hospitals in militancy zone, but all refused due to law-and-order situation there,” said Dr. Kamran Khan, administrative officer at the directorate of health.

The Taliban have also prohibited female patients from visiting hospitals in Swat without an accompanying male relative.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has 5,639 female doctors and 5,435 nurses, but only 5% of them are posted in areas where militants are active.

“We support the war on terror because we are the worst sufferers of the militancy. At a district headquarters hospital in Hangu, there is no female doctor,” said Mohammad Wajid Shah, who brought his wife to the Hayatabad Medical Complex Peshawar for abdominal pain.

“Four years ago, female doctors and nurses left,” he said. “We are really upset by militancy and want an end to it.”

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