The latest world trend of making your voice heard is through slogans, chants and bans. Pakistan follows suit. Strikes by transporters to protest against fuel price hikes seem mild now. Beginning March 1, 2011, Pakistan witnessed the longest strike of its history which lasted 37 days.  The Young Doctors Association initiated its movement in Punjab, spreading rage through Sindh and Balochistan, bringing treatment to a halt at all out-patient departments at civil hospitals. The question that arises is whether this is in reality rage, or rather a result of corruption? There are several angles to this story.

The Discriminated Doctors

The doctors argued that their wages are even lower than what a local compounder receives in private hospitals.  Their demand was to increase the economic value for their work. If we consider medicine as just another profession, when KESC workers can strike for their rights, why can’t doctors? They find their futures to be insecure due to the contractual natures of their job, and it is unfair to promote doctors on seniority rather than merit. In a country where barely less than 2% of the GDP is dedicated to healthcare, the priority of health is clear. Health is a neglected issue and why should anyone agree to work for less?

The Suffering Patients

Doctors refused to show up at work. This came at a severe cost – breakdown of 60% of the country’s health facilities and a loss of 500 lives due to non-availability of emergency services at public hospitals. Trust was lost and the civilians were left asking themselves if a doctor’s income is worth more than the public oath taken by him/her of never refusing treatment. It was widely observed as a symptom of moral decay. Struggling even to obtain death certificates, this perspective begs the question: what is the patients’ fault?

The Pressured Politicians

Not one man makes or breaks decisions in politics with the exception of perhaps The Big One in Pakistan. How was the government of Punjab to react to these strikes then? Sources reveal that a soft protest had been underway on the issues of increasing wages, regularizing appointment and appointing on meritocracy since the beginning of 2010. The government’s lack of response turned into a blame game in the media. The opposition openly criticized the government of Punjab for being unable to live up to promises made. Meanwhile, the federal government became defensive on its expense allocation. For a government already pressed with fiscal deficit, budgetary constraints, security fears and unemployment, was the doctors’ plight simply a problem of priority?

Was did the Strike Finally Achieve?

The anger of the doctors has now subsided by promises of significantly higher salaries. A new service structure with employment vacancies on merit will be in place from July 1st onwards. Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani has given assurances of a new career path for health professionals. If this strike was simply a result of rage then the fire has been put out and hopefully all the resulting damage will be erased after implementation of the promised plan. If it was a result of corruption however, then its end will be like all other problems prevailing in the country – a dead end!

The strike worked and was perhaps an efficient way of getting the government’s attention. However, the implementation of the plan will only be an answer to the doctors’ demands.  What of the patients’ demands (and rights) of a better standard of healthcare and its allocation in the national expense? Answers to such important questions are still pending…