Residents of Mastuj have demanded that the government should take back the rural health centre of Mastuj from the Aga Khan Health Centre (AKHS) and ensure provision of healthcare facilities to the public.
Noor Ahmed Lal of Lakhap, retired Subedar Muhammad Karim Shah, Kissan councillor Sher Nadir from Chinar, Imamuddin from Toq Mastuj, Mir Ayub, Sher Wazir, Khosh Wali Khan, Village Organization Lakhap president Abdul Qadir and Naib Nazim Village Council Sarghuz Syed Jalal Hussain said the availability of basic healthcare was the right of the citizens but by handing over the RHC to the private sector the KP government had snatched this basic right from the residents.
They said the RHC was the only health centre in the public sector catering to people of the Mastuj tehsil up to the Broghil valley. Due to the extreme poverty and remoteness of the area the dwellers are facing numerous healthcare issues and there are not a single public sector healthcare centre to facilitate them.
But instead of opening up more healthcare centre and despite opposition by the residents, the previous KP government entered into an agreement with the AKHS and handed over the RHC to it in 2011. While people of the area could not afford the fees and charges of the private organization and demanded that the centre should be taken back from the private sector, the provincial government renewed the agreement in 2016.
They said the RHC was now charging Rs160 in the morning and Rs270 in the evening shift as he outpatient department (OPD) fee from the patients. Besides, whenever a patient visits the centre even for an ordinary ailment the doctors carry out unnecessary laboratory and radiology tests putting more financial burden on them. As a result, the residents are now avoiding visiting the centre, putting a very negative impact on their health.
To pacify the residents, the government had opened a temporary dispensary in Mastuj but it lacks medicines and staff. When the district health officer (DHO) was approached with a request for the provision of necessary medicines and staff, they were told that the dispensary was temporary and could not be provided medicines and staff on a regular basis.
The residents also said the private organization running the RHC was using electricity from the powerhouse of the local community. But when there is no supply from the powerhouse, they alleged, the management of the RHC charged extra fee from the patients on the pretext of using the diesel generator to facilitate them. They also said under the agreement the AKHS was supposed to appoint at least three doctors at the centre but it failed to meet this criterion. Currently, two doctors appointed by the government are working at the centre while there is no gynecology doctor.
They said a few years ago the people of the area lodged a complaint with the then secretary health KP after which he visited Mastuj in a helicopter of the Aga Khan Foundation and listened to the public grievances. The then deputy commissioner Chital, Osama Ahmad Waraich, was also present and briefed the secretary health about the healthcare issues of the area but the health department boss did not take the matter seriously and left without resolving the issue.
The provincial government should now revisit its decision of handing over the RHC to the private sector and ensure availability of all basic healthcare facilities at the centre to facilitate the locals.
In Nov 2013, the Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS) Chitral opened the Rural Health Centre (RHC) in Mastuj after taking it over from the district health department under a public-private partnership agreement.
Addressing the opening function, the speakers had said the RHC building was constructed in 1975 but the government neither provided any doctor nor other staff to the centre rendering it worthless. As a result, the local people remained deprived of basic healthcare facilities and during emergencies they had no other option but to rush their patients to the Chitral town. Most of the people could not afford travelling to the Chitral town and on many occasions patients died before reaching any hospital. After taking over the healthcare centre,
The AKHS installed latest machinery and equipment at the centre besides setting up a labour room. The speakers said the people of the area were very happy with the availability of the medical facilities at their doorsteps. But now the residents told ChitralToday that the speeches were made at the inaugural ceremony by people with vested interest. They said the RHC remained without doctors only for a couple of years. If the absence of doctors was a justification for the handing over of the RHC to the private sector, now it should be taken back as the PTI-led government has appointed a record number of doctors in the province, they pointed out.
(Published in ChitralToday on May 23, 2017, by Zar Alam Khan).