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Pakistan's doctors protest at killing of 13 colleagues this year

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.324.7341.805 (Published 06 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:805
  1. Zarar Khan
  1. Karachi

More than 50 prominent Karachi physicians staged a six hour hunger strike last Saturday in protest at the targeted killing of fellow physicians in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan. Also, the Pakistan Medical Association, angered by the government's apparently uncaring attitude towards the killings, has now called for a countrywide strike on 8 April.

Doctors here have been calling for adequate security for some time now. This year alone, 13 doctors, most of them belonging to the Shiite sect of Islam, were killed in Karachi, while 270 have been killed countrywide since 1997. Most victims have been based in Karachi.

The hunger strike was the second attempt by Karachi doctors to gain the authorities' attention. A strike throughout the province was observed on 22 March. However, it had proved ineffective, even though all government hospitals—except for their emergency units—remained shut.

Police and doctors believe that the recent spate of attacks on doctors is part of a campaign being waged by religious extremists, mostly belonging to the mainstream Sunni sect, to wreak revenge on Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, for his recent attempts to crack down on militant Muslim groups.

“Doctors are an easy prey as just about anyone can walk into a clinic posing as a patient,” said dermatologist Dr Tabassum Jaffery. “Moreover, killing a doctor appears to create a lot more fear among the population.”

Professor Tipu Sultan, a prominent anaesthetist and a central figure of the Pakistan Medical Association, points out that in one week, 11 doctors have left the country and gone overseas. “They are unable to concentrate on their work,” said Professor Sultan.

But health officials say that the doctors are protesting to pre-empt a government law restricting the private practice of doctors employed by the public sector.

The Pakistan Medical Association's secretary general, Dr Syed Shershah, denied this: “Our protest has one aim—to guarantee security for all citizens,” he said. “Doctors as citizens are more vulnerable to terrorist attacks.” He added: “We are not politicising the issue. We are just drawing the government's attention to its primary duty. It should protect the lives of the citizens.”

The governor of Sindh province, Muhammadmian Somroo, has promised to step up security for doctors, but the doctors have yet to see any change. Karachi police chief Asad Jehangir suspects that the banned Sunni group, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, is behind most of the killings.

“We have arrested many activists of the group. Efforts are on to nab some more,” he said.

The Sipah-e-Sahaba is among five extremist groups banned by Mr Musharraf. Police have arrested six members of the Sipah-e-Sahaba in connection with the attacks on the medical community.


Embedded Image

Pakistani children protest at the killing of doctors

(Credit: AP PHOTO/ZIA MAZHAR)

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