Sunday June 23, 2024

Health and violence

By Editorial Board
June 05, 2023

Healthcare being a physically dangerous job is not a usual conclusion. Not so for us in Pakistan. According to a report published by the US-based Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition, there was a sharp increase in the number of cases of violence against healthcare professionals in Pakistan in 2022 compared to the previous year. In 2021, seven cases of violence against health workers were reported whereas in 2022 the number grew to 16. Almost 90 per cent of these incidents came against polio workers attempting to vaccinate children to prevent them from a disease which could cripple them for life. The violence varied from threatening or harassing workers to the killing of eight security guards, the kidnapping of others and injuries to still other personnel trying to protect polio workers. This is essentially part of a broader pattern of growing violence and distrust in authorities in the country. It is extended from there into other walks of life, including healthcare. This is a dangerous phenomenon and deserves to be taken up at higher levels. If people are not willing to trust even those who provide them with healthcare or who protect their children, then we have before us an entirely dysfunctional taste in which ordinary people are completely unable to distinguish truth from lies.

According to the report, 90 per cent of the cases of violence took place in certain areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while some occurred in Sindh and Balochistan. It may be noted that particularly in KP there has been a great deal of propaganda against the polio vaccine and stories without any basis in scientific fact about the ill effects it can cause. The truth is that people believe what they read on social media or from other unreliable sources but not what is put out officially or the efforts made by authorities to ensure every child in the country is vaccinated. This is dangerous and we hope we will not see an expansion in the coming years even as we see a greater and greater breakdown of law and order.

Pakistan urgently needs more healthcare at the local level not only for children but all its citizens. The polio vaccine is just one effort to provide it to as many as possible. The fact that even a UN team backing the polio campaign and working with vaccinators was attacked shows just how hostile people are to the whole programme. Even apart from attacks on polio teams, grief-propelled violence against healthcare professionals also needs to be tackled. It has just been a few days that reports came in that a doctor in a hospital in Lahore was subjected to physical violence by a family whose child had died. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Covid-19 pandemic had already ‘exacerbated the threat of violence and harassment against healthcare workers, causing significant stress on their physical and mental health’ – with an estimated 600 cases of violence against healthcare workers, patients and health facilities recorded in the first six months of the pandemic in Pakistan. What we need is a concerted effort to protect our healthcare workers and those deputed to protect them from attacks based on superstitions and disinformation as well as teaching those in urban areas how to protect themselves by de-escalating the threat of violence by aggrieved patients and their families in hospitals.