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Tuesday Apr 14 2020

Doctors in Balochistan are being forced to buy their own protective gear to guard against coronavirus

Prime Minister Imran Khan (second from right) on a visit to Quetta. Photo: File

QUETTA: Nearly 18 doctors have tested positive for the coronavirus in Balochistan, bringing the total number of medical staff infected by the virus to 30 in Pakistan’s poorest and most underdeveloped province.

The latest to contract the deadly virus was a physician at the state-run Civil Hospital in Quetta, who was sickened while tending to patients.

As of now, all diagnosed medics, including doctors and nurses, have been quarantined or isolated at their homes. Health experts warn that the number of healthcare professionals falling ill could further rise in the coming day, as more doctors are tested.

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The province in total has tested only 3,000 plus people. On April 13, as low as 72 samples are sent to labs for testing.

Fed up, last week, medics took to the streets to protest the lack of protective equipment at local hospitals, including basic like N-95 masks and gloves. The police baton charged the young doctors and arrested over 60. The men were released a day later.

As the situation aggravates in the province, the Jam Kamal Khan-led coalition is under a lot of pressure to do more to protect those at the frontline of the war against this virus.

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“We have been requesting the Balochistan health department and the government to distribute adequate number of personal protection equipment (PPE) to the doctors and para medic staff in Quetta’s hospitals,” a senior doctor told, on the condition of anonymity.

Last week, the National Disaster Management Authority tweeted that PPEs have been sent to doctors and health workers of Balochistan, including over 5,000 face masks, 324 N-95 masks, 615 protective suits, 4,610 pairs of gloves, 319 surgical caps, 292 shoe covers, protective glasses and face shields.

Yet, a physician, belonging to the Young Doctor Association (YDA), said that his colleagues have been manhandled and thrown behind bars, and few have received any safety equipment so far.

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“We had been left with no other option but to purchase PPEs and face masks worth Rs. 2.8 million ourselves,” said Dr Ayesha, a medic in Quetta, who is also a member of the YDA.

Meanwhile, health officials rubbish the young doctors’ complaints, insisting that most have been infected at their private clinics, not in public hospitals.

“These doctors have contracted the virus at private hospitals or during private OPDs,” Dr Saleem Abro, the director general health Balochistan, told “Some of them fell ill because they did not adopt proper safety guidelines.”

As of April 14, there are 231 confirmed cases of the virus in the province. Of the total, 123 people have been discharged from the Shaikh Zaid Hospital so far. In addition, 21 doctors and paramedical staff, who tested positive, are in self-isolation at their homes.

Health in Balochistan is a neglected sector. In the 2019-2020 budget the provincial government allocated Rs34 billion for health, of which Rs22 billion has to date been spent on non-development expenditures. While the remaining Rs12 billion on the purchase of medicines, x-ray films and other disposable items.