Improved security prompts Pakistani doctors to return from abroad
PESHAWAR -- Pakistani doctors are returning from the Middle East and Europe after security has improved across Pakistan, in particular Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Dr. Zafar Sultan is one of the 20 specialist doctors who recently resigned from his job in the United Kingdom to join Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar.
Sultan, a resident of Swabi District, said his homecoming after many years abroad was due to better security in KP.
"I was abroad for 14 years with my wife and three children but decided to come back when we saw that terrorism had diminished and life has returned to complete normality," he told Pakistan Forward.
Like many returning doctors, Sultan said he left Pakistan to seek higher education and employment abroad, and felt compelled to stay there because of insecurity in Pakistan.
"Many of our other colleagues have now returned with the decline in terrorism and are very happy over the prevailing peace," he said.
The newly arrived doctors cite better working conditions at hospitals and salaries and improved law and order across Pakistan as the main reasons for the decision to quit their jobs abroad.
Dr. Hamid Shehzad, another recent returnee, worked as a consultant in the biggest trauma centre in the UK -- Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham -- for 15 years.
Now he heads the emergency section at LRH.
"My priority is to develop a state-of-the-art trauma centre and provide prompt treatment to patients injured in bombings and suicide attacks," he told Pakistan Forward.
Winning the battle against militants has paved the way for specialists to come back, said Dr. Arshad Javaid, dean of LRH's Postgraduate Medical Institute.
Pakistani doctors are returning from abroad to work in other cities as well.
Dr. Ahmed Yar, who served as general surgeon in a hospital in Dubai for the past eight years, now works at Mardan Medical Complex.
"I was excited to stage a comeback and treat my own people," he told Pakistan Forward. "[Compared to] the past couple of years, the situation regarding militancy has improved a lot."
Improvements in FATA
Medics in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), who previously feared deployment to militancy-stricken areas, now have only minor security concerns, thanks to on-going military campaigns.
"There are 600 doctors, including 110 specialists, at the 970 health facilities to cover a population of 4.5 million," Dr. Ikhtiar Ali of the FATA Health Directorate told Pakistan Forward
About 50 clinics damaged by militants have been repaired and made operational, he said, adding that now even female doctors are willing to work in FATA.
Prior to mid-2012, hospitals in militant areas remained without staff and patients had to travel to KP, he said.
"Our strategy to offer enhanced salaries to employees in difficult areas has also paid off as health professionals have joined facilities in remote areas," he said.
Ali praised the Pakistani army for restoring peace in FATA.
"There's a visible change that brought us here," Dr. Muhammad Salim, a graduate of Khyber Medical College in Peshawar who left for the UK in 2003, told Pakistan Forward.
"It is a great occasion to be able to serve local patients with my experience," said Salim, who now works at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH).
Expatriate doctors are now lecturing medical students and specialist trainees about the latest in medical technology because they feel safe coming to KP, said KTH spokesperson Farhad Khan.
The government recruited about 2,000 security personnel who are posted at health facilities across the country to protect staff from violence, Khan said.
"We have been frequently receiving delegates from abroad who operate upon patients and deliver lectures via video to doctors in the provincial hospitals," he told Pakistan Forward.
Dr. Ghulam Subkhani, Swat District health officer, said authorities have filled 100% of posts in the district's 90 hospitals.
"Patients suffered for lack of female doctors and nurses during the unlawful rule of Taliban militants, but now there is complete peace," he told Pakistan Forward.
Subkhani worked as a surgeon in Dubai for 10 years and recently opted to return.
"A few years back, people were afraid of coming to Swat," he said, "but now the Taliban's chapter is closed and the military protects the public."