Once again this year, as in previous years, Lady Health Workers in Punjab have gathered in hundreds outside the Punjab Assembly to demand their rights. These women health workers have come in from all parts of the province and began their protest on Monday; the Punjab government has, however, maintained it had already met their demands and that the gathering was unjustified. The LHWs seem to clearly feel strongly about their cause, though. Their battle for better remuneration and treatment equal to that of other civil servants has in fact continued since 2009. Successive governments have failed to resolve the problems of these grassroots workers who cater to the most basic health needs of people, notably women and children and especially those in far-flung areas. Their task is not an easy one, given that they work in often grim conditions without any facilities or support. The LHWs are considered by health experts to be crucial in delivering maternal care and also conducting vaccination drives such as upcoming ones in Punjab against malaria, dengue and polio. The protest in fact means that these planned drives could even be affected, something no government should be willing to let happen.
Leaders representing the health workers have stated in their speeches that they seek an up-gradation of scales, rights which match up other government employees including pensions on retirement and other amenities that can make the lives of LHWs a little easier. It is unfortunate that the Punjab government appears to be rejecting their demands and has not engaged in detailed talks with this important community. Perhaps their attitude towards the health workers needs to be revised.
The significance of Pakistan’s lady health workers in delivering healthcare must be recognised and their salaries made equal to those of others in public service working on the same scales. The issue has continued for far too long already, and the voices of these women should not any longer be ignored. The fact that they have chosen to gather, leaving behind homes, families and work, and brave a storm in Lahore to continue their protest indicates that they are indeed desperate. Far too often have we ignored the voices of women working unglamorous, stressful, even dangerous jobs in the healthcare sector (one example is polio teams). We hope 2019 will be different for them.