PESHAWAR -- The Pakistani government is deploying more women doctors in militancy-stricken districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to improve maternal and child health.
"We have appointed 1,100 doctors, including 500 women medical officers, to be posted in health facilities in KP," said KP Director General of Health Services Dr. Parvez Kamal.
The government is giving top priority to strengthen healthcare delivery in areas harmed by terrorism, particularly in seven districts of Malakand division, he told Pakistan Forward.
Rebuilding health infrastructure
Between 2005 and 2014, Taliban militants destroyed at least 300 health facilities in KP and FATA, causing serious health problems for residents.
"We have already initiated measures to provide additional medicines, equipment and surgical supplies to the terrorism-affected areas to cope with the burden of diseases there," Kamal said.
Women's health in particular was adversely affected by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which damaged health facilities and warned female doctors and nurses to stay home, he said.
"We are sending more female doctors to Malakand division to cut down on mother and infant deaths due to pregnancy-related complications," he said.
Swat District Health Officer Dr. Said Ali Khan said authorities have already started to rebuild what the Taliban destroyed between 2007 and 2009.
"We have already reconstructed 14 facilities damaged by militants and have re-employed about 200 female health workers who had been forced by Taliban to resign," he told Pakistan Forward.
In addition to damaging the health infrastructure, Taliban violence disabled countless people, he said. To help these people regain mobility and independence, healthcare facilities provide free physiotherapy and wheelchairs to those who need them.
Taliban militants destroyed health facilities to deprive people of the health care they deserve, said Pakistan Medical Association Secretary Dr. Umar Farooq.
"We condemn militants for banning vaccination and exposing children to vaccine-preventable childhood ailments," he told Pakistan Forward.
Farooq urged the health department to provide more staff and resources to all violence-hit areas.
"There is a dire need to upgrade facilities in Bannu, Tank, Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat and Chitral, among others, to ensure free treatment of patients there. These districts have suffered due to terrorism in nearby FATA," he said.
Improving maternal, infant health
Dr. Fayyaz Ali, a physician in Peshawar, said he is concerned about the poor health indicators in FATA and KP and blames militants for the health woes of residents, particularly the high maternal mortality ratio.
"About 206 women die in every 100,000 live births in Pakistan, while the situation in KP and FATA is more serious as 300 women die in every 100,000 live births," he told Pakistan Forward.
"The government needs to provide ambulances, trained birth attendants and medicines to put the brakes on pregnancy-related complications," he said.
Dr. Sahib Gul, head of maternal and neonatal child health in KP, said the government is spending over US $16.2 million to improve mother and child health over the next two years.
"We are providing ambulances to ensure that emergency patients get rapid care, especially in militancy-affected areas of KP," he told Pakistan Forward.
The focus also is on immunisation, nutrition and training female health workers, he said.
"In the past two months, we have deployed 1,340 community midwives, 46 women doctors and 98 Lady Health Workers in hospitals to give emergency obstetric care to women in KP," he said.
Lady Health Workers are female community health workers trained in the prevention and treatment of common illnesses, particularly related to the e health concerns of children under five and women.
"We aim to develop comprehensive emergency obstetric care and provide health facilities to both mothers and children in government hospitals in rural areas," Gul said.
"Malakand division needs more assistance to ensure that pregnancy-related cases are handled by trained birth attendants and, if needed, those requiring tertiary care be transported to the nearest facility for specialised treatment," he added.
Military operation opens health services in FATA
Militancy caused massive losses to the health sector in FATA as most of the staff feared coming to work, forcing patients to visit KP health facilities even for minor ailments, said Director of Health Services FATA Dr. Jawad Habib.
The Pakistani government has appointed 1,050 doctors to FATA to expand health care in rural areas, he said.
"Now, we have deployed 200 women medical officers and 150 nurses to cater to the needs of women's diseases," he told Pakistan Forward.
"FATA will get services of at least 10 pediatricians and 20 gynecologists and 210 medical officers to provide free treatment to the population in 450 health facilities," he said.
With the successful military operation against Taliban militants, there has been improvement in healthcare delivery, including in rural areas, as the hospitals are safe now, Habib said.
"Previously, health workers were reluctant to work in FATA’s hospitals, especially during night shifts, but the fear has faded away with presence of the army," he said.
When militancy was at its peak, the Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar received many patients from FATA, according to the hospital's media and protocol officer, Farhad Khan.
"For the past two years, the number of FATA patients has decreased in Peshawar-based hospitals due to the improvement of facilities back home," he said.
"Now, only seriously or chronically ill patients are coming here," he said.