What’s happening in Balochistan amidst COVID-19 pandemic outbreak? – Sami Parvez

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Around the world, health care workers are being honoured and recognized as the heroes for their devotions and being on the frontline to fight against the most dangerous virus of the era. These key-workers are putting their lives at stake to save our lives amid COVID-19 pandemic crisis. Unfortunately, in Balochistan, which is the largest province of Pakistan by area, health care workers have been beaten and arrested for demanding personal protective equipment (PPE), which is their fundamental right.

The reaction of government of Balochistan and the police is totally unacceptable and strongly condemnable at a time when more health care workers are required on the frontline to help and fight against the COVID-19. In such demanding times, the doctors in Balochistan were arrested and put behind the bars.

According to the local media reports, last week, so-called “Chief Minister of Balochistan, Jam Kamal had reassured the Young Doctors Association of Balochistan that PPE and other health facilities would be available in hospitals within 3 days.” Unfortunately, after 5 days, Mr. Kamal could not fulfil his words and the basic medical supplies have never arrived in the hospitals. In reaction, the doctors and paramedics staff took strong measure to hold a demonstration in front of the Chief Minister house. But unfortunately they were beaten and arrested by Police. 

The Balochistan government’s spokesperson told the media that the doctors and paramedic staff violated the 144 act and social distancing. In fact, the 144 act was implemented late midnight in the response to the Young Doctors Association’s call for the demonstration against the lack of PPE in hospitals.

World human rights watchdog Amnesty International’s South Asia wing condemned the arrest of doctors in Balochistan on Twitter: “They must be provided with the protection and support they need. Their arrests in Balochistan today are an attack on their right to peaceful protest and an affront to the risks they face. They must be immediately released and the police must stop using excessive force.”

So far, more than 1.43 million people have been infected and more than 80,000 deaths have been reported because of novel coronavirus, across the globe. However, at the time of writing, Pakistan government has claimed that only 4,072 people have been infected by coronavirus and 58 have lost their lives. In Balochistan 200+ cases have been reported. However, given the lack of testing services these numbers could be much higher.

In addition, so far there is no coronavirus testing service available in any other city of Balochistan other than Quetta. In Quetta only those people are being tested who have visited Iran recently. Even then as a result of the lack of PPE, 13 doctors were infected from COVID-19 and it is yet unknown how many more were contacted from these doctors who have contracted the virus.

On March 28th, 2020, the spoke person of Pakistan foreign affairs minister spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui, confirmed in a statement on Twitter that China has sent medical aid to Pakistan to fight the pandemic crisis.  According to a confirmed source, Balochistan may get a small amount of this aid. Nevertheless, Balochistan always has been treated as a stepchild when it needs any help.

Indeed, Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan by area, which covers 44% of Pakistan, still it is the least developed province and the lowest in population and the Baloch people are anguishing from countless challenges. Despite that, Baloch people are being ignored by the government of Balochistan and Pakistan, in the shape of development and enlightenment of their future.

In spite of Balochistan government’s claim that 765 million rupees were released as aid relief package to all the districts of the Balochistan. In reality, after more than 2 weeks of lock down in Balochistan no one received anything from government, and everyone is trying to survive on their own. However, some local volunteers have steped in, and have initiated collecting and contributing money and food to feed the poor people. 

On Tuesday morning in Turbat, which is the second biggest city of Balochistan after Quetta, numerous people gathered near Deputy Commissioner Office of Kech to ask for help. These are daily wage workers, like labours, bus drivers, food sellers, and some jobless people including women who have no other source of income. They are badly affected from COVID-19 lockdown and do not have alternate sources of income neither have any employment insurance.

They have demanded that they should be provided food supplies as soon as possible as their children are hungry and do not have anything to eat. “We are suffering terribly and this hunger could provoke us to commit suicide. The houses of members of national & provisional assemblies are very near to our houses but despite that they do not bother to help. However, at the election time they visit us and ask us to vote for them,” a protestor said.

DC Kech Major retd. Mohammad Ilyas, told the VSH News, he was briefed on this concern and he insisted that only those will get groceries for a month, who have no source of income and cannot afford to buy and we will deliver food to their homes at day or night time. He added that they have started serving rations to the rural areas who have no access to the city due to the lock down amid COVID-19.

In Balochistan people have absolutely lost the trust in the government as it has never done anything for their citizens at the time of need specially in such a pandemic crisis. This is a great question mark on the face of Balochistan government why it has failed to fulfil their duties solemnly for what they are assigned these positions. 

The government failure is visible when the health care workers are demanding the PPE and the government officials like selected CM Jam Kamal and the Balochistan’s finance minister Zahoor Buledai are doing nothing which is a big question mark as to why such incapable persons are being given these designation positions if they are unable to fulfil their duties.

On the other hand, according to a local source of Balochistan, there are rumours that the doctor held this demonstration to blackmail the government. It is believed that the doctors would demand to restore the 44 suspended doctors who declined government’s order to visit Taftan and test coronavirus suspected cases. They could also demand that contract based doctors should be made permanent. 

If there is any truth to these rumors then the both the government officials and the doctors should realise that it is very dangerous to play with the lives of citizens in order to fulfil their personal demands and to entertain their personal benefits the critical lives should not be held hostages. Doctors should remember the “Hippocratic Oath” and government officials their “Oath of Allegiance” and do not try to contempt their Oaths and avoid exploitation of authorities.  

The government of Balochistan and Pakistan should play their essential role to fight against this cruel virus and at the same must praise the health care workers and provide them all the essential medical suppliers that required. All districts hospitals should be provided coronavirus testing kits to make it easier to test those who are symptomatic. All doctors should be restored back to their positions so that they can go back to the frontline and help out against the novel coronavirus. Similarly, health care workers especially doctors should put aside their personal disputes at this time and try to perform their duties solemnly and save the patients lives. When this crisis is over then they can get back to their demands. Additionally, government must immediately start providing financial  assistance and food to those people who are badly affected owing to COVID-19 lockdown.

Sami Parvez is a freelance writer based in Canada and he tweets at @BalochSami and be reached at samiparvez@shaw.ca

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Balochistan Post or any of its editors. Share

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