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Doctor Abductions Leave Patients Helpless

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

Doctors in the Pakistani frontier provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are running scared after nearly 45 consultants were kidnapped for ransom this year. Police suspect that gangs enjoying the Taliban’s patronage are behind the abductions that are just a symptom of the many challenges the country faces as it battles terrorism, ethnic conflicts and sectarian divisions.

With many doctors striking work to demand government action or leaving for safer places, patient care in both provinces – which together account for 32 million people in a country of 185 million – has suffered a setback.

“A spate of kidnappings of senior doctors has adversely affected patient care in the hospitals of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan,” Dr Shah Sawar, president of the Provincial Doctors Association (PDA) told IPS.

“Doctors don’t want to cause problems to patients by striking work, but there is no other way to pressure the government into rescuing their abducted colleagues."

Doctors usually work in government hospitals in the morning hours and many have private practice in the evenings, earning anything between 10,000 and 30,000 dollars a month. Almost all the victims have been abducted for ransom...

For full story, links and photos, see full story: Doctor Abductions Leave Patients Helpless.

...Tareen said the province had only 200 specialists – not enough to cater to its 10 million people. Balochistan, spread over 44 percent of Pakistan’s land mass, is the country’s largest province and the vastness makes it difficult for people in far-flung places to access medical care.

“About 10 consultants have left Quetta, Pishin, Kalat and other cities due to the fear of being kidnapped. Lack of security can trigger a brain drain,” he said.

Tareen said doctors had been asked to get arms licences and employ guards.

“We are all afraid as we belong to the same income group and may be on the watch list of kidnappers,” he said.

Prof Abdur Rehman, a Peshawar-based ophthalmologist, was kidnapped Jan. 29 2013. “He has restricted his activities ever since he was freed in June,” Dr Subhan Ali, one of his assistants, told IPS.

He used to see around 500 patients every day, the majority of who were not charged at all. Patients at his medical camps used to receive free drugs and even glasses. But now he has shut the camps because he didn’t want to get exposed to kidnappers. Several gangs operate in the city and there is always the fear of another group targeting him.

“He has stopped holding the camps,” the assistant said. People who used to get free checkups and medication are at the receiving end, he said.

The city’s top pediatrician, Prof Abdul Hameed, who foiled an attempt to kidnap him in September, has been spending most of his time at home. Dr Sawar said, “After the incident, he has stopped examining children.”

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