Rural areas deprived of free healthcare

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At least 34 public sector health facilities, being run by a non-governmental organisation in the city’s rural areas, have been closed.The health facilities, providing free-of-cost treatment to thousands of people of Bin Qasim and Gaddap towns, were closed after funding from the finance department ground to a halt. All the 34 hospitals were handed over to Health and Nutrition Development Society (HANDS) in 2017 under a public-private partnership (PPP) mode on a five-year contract.

The contract expired in September of 2021 and was extended for six more months. “Not a single penny has been released since February 18,” said an official working in one of the hospitals. “The hospitals cannot operate without finances,” he explained.Out of 34 health facilities, three are major hospitals with round-the-clock emergency departments. The facilities were also providing free lab tests and other treatments to patients living in semi-urban areas of the provincial capital.A senior official said that about 1,500 employees were recruited in all 34 hospitals and have all been told not to continue their services. It was also learnt that the ambulance facilities run by HANDS have been closed in the areas.

Health Parliamentary Secretary Qasim Siraj Soomro assured The Express Tribune that the issue will soon be resolved. “We are working on it,” he added. Sources disclosed that despite directives given by the health department, the provincial finance department has not released the funds to HANDS.It was also learnt that it has not decided yet to release funds to the NGO that has been running around three dozen hospitals for over five years.

Commenting on the sudden closure of the hospitals, a senior official of HANDS told The Express Tribune that his organisation was providing salaries to all employees and medicine to patients without any government support for the last three months.”It costs Rs15 million per month to provide medicine to all these hospitals,” he explained, saying most of the same amount was being released for staff. “The health department is clear on its policies, but I do not understand the red-tapism of the finance department,” he bemoaned.

The area residents and staff warn that a critical situation will emerge in the city’s rural areas if hospitals were closed. They also said that poor people were unable to bring their sick family members to other areas of the city due to the poor transport system.

It is pertinent to mention here that the contract with Integrated Health Services, an NGO, was suspended last year due to the organisation’s purported poor performance.

A senior health department confirmed that authorities were satisfied with the performance of HANDS. Azwar Ameer Baloch, a resident of Malir, said about 500 patients were visiting the hospital located in Old Thana. He said that patients were coming from far flung areas such as Kathore and Hub Chowky.

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