Doctors in Quetta recently went on strike from their clinics, following the abduction of surgeon Dr Deen Muhammad Bangalzai on the 22nd of July. Nine days later, Dr Bangalzai arrived home, but the incident highlights a yet unresolved and worrying trend of kidnapping doctors in Baluchistan, that has now become common place in the province.
Dr Bangalzai was abducted by a yet unknown group in the Mustang – a usually busy and populated area. Although he was returned to his family, others who have previously suffered similar attacks have not been so fortunate, with some doctors being killed when when the kidnappers demands have not been met.
When Dr Bangalzai first went missing, doctors in Quetta immediately went on strike from their clinics to protest against the abduction. To start with only doctors from the government clinics went on strike, but after four days, when Doctor Bangalzai had still not been returned home, those working privately also took part in the strike.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) immediately announced their decision to observe the strike, following the kidnapping, stating that they would continue until their colleague was returned. Mirza Ali Mazhar, the general secretary of the PMA went on to discuss the dangerous situation for doctors in Baluchistan. “The situation for doctors is not ideal in any province, but here in Baluchistan it is worst, as not even a single doctor is safe. Doctors are in a lot of danger – on a daily basis they are threatened, kidnapped and sometimes even killed.”
Mirza revealed that kidnappers had demanded Rs.5 million for the release of Dr Bangalzai and suggested that such incidents were taking place solely for kidnappers to collect ransom money. Government officials had also previously made a statement, stating their commitment towards efforts in releasing the kidnapped doctor as soon as possible. Yet despite such statements and such incidents taking place so often, nobody has yet to suggest a possible solution to putting an end to the kidnappings.
Although doctors are greatly suffering from the fear of such abductions, ordinary people have been severely affected by the strikes, limiting access to healthcare. Doctors only remained in outdoor patient departments and emergency wards, finding it very difficult to cope with the extra patients visiting hospitals in Quetta.
Many patients complained of their difficulties during such strikes and how they have no other options, stating that visiting hospitals in other cities is more expensive and that traveling while ill could be harmful to them. Most people are adamant that strikes should not take place, but if threats of kidnapping remain for doctors, it seems likely that such strikes will continue in the future.
Just this week, another strike began on August 1st following the abduction of a doctor from Bolan Medical Complex in Quetta. Doctors are sending a clear message that they are unwilling to put up with such incidents, but it remains to be seen who will provide a solution or offer some sort of decisive action on the overall matter.