Today, dozens of health workers were tortured and arrested in Quetta, Pakistan while they were protesting for the provision of personal protective equipment outside the office of the Chief Minister of Balochistan Province in Pakistan.
The Young Doctors’ Association of Balochistan, along with the Nurses’ Association and the Hospital Workers’ Association, had been demanding the provision of protective equipment for many days but the government was not responding to their demands. These health workers were providing health services in government hospitals without any equipment. Many of them contracted the coronavirus because of this and at least 13 have tested positive so far. A dozen others are waiting for their test results.
Three days ago, they held a joint press conference in which they gave the government 48 hours to provide protective equipment. If this demand wasn’t met, the health workers stated, they would hold a protest against the government. No one gave any heed to their demands. For this reason, they started their protest this morning in front of the Chief Minister’s office, risking their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of listening to their complaints, the government met them with savage repression. They were brutally beaten by the police, taken into custody and shifted to different police stations in Quetta.
According to our most recent information, dozens of health workers were still in custody, along with the leaders of the Young Doctors Association, Paramedics Association, and a leading trade union organiser and member of Red Workers Front RWF Balochistan, Karim Parhar. Karim Parhar also shared a video on Facebook, showing him inside a police van, being taken to the police station together with many other health workers. In the video, all the arrested health workers are seen raising their demands. They showed complete resolve, determination to fight for their rights and to save not only their own, but also their patients’ lives.
The situation in Pakistan’s other provinces and cities is no different. From day one, health workers organised in the Grand Health Alliance have been demanding protective equipment from the government. However, the pandemic has been allowed to ravage the country for several weeks, and they have not received any of this lifesaving gear. Even ordinary facemasks are not available to these health workers. In many places, they are forced to use plastic bags and other such material to protect their personal safety. Dozens of health workers around the country have contracted COVID-19, with a few having already died. One of those is a 27-year old doctor, Osama Riaz from Gilgit in Baltistan, who was screening COVID-19 patients there. Many other doctors, female nurses and hospital workers have tested positive due to the lack of protective equipment.
The Grand Health Alliance’s leaders have held various press conferences and raised their voices in many TV shows, as well as on social media, putting forward these demands. The government steadfastly refuses to listen. This puts in stark relief the callousness and inhuman nature of the ruling class here. Instead of providing health workers with proper PPE, the government announced that those who die in this fight would be labeled as martyrs and asked the security forces to present health workers with a salute of honor. But health workers publicly condemned this action, saying they didn’t want to become martyrs; instead, they want to continue fulfilling their duties in this critical situation.
PTUS demands immediate release of arrested doctors, staff and activists. We demand the government to provide personal protective equipment to all doctors and front-line healthcare staff who are working tirelessly day and night to diagnose and treat Covid-19 patients.
PTUS is seeking international working class solidarity particularly those in the health sector against government brutality on healthcare workers in Pakistan.
Please send a message of solidarity to doctors and healthcare workers in Pakistan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org