Red Cross launches campaign to protect healthcare staff from assaults

By Ashfaq Yusufzai

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) July 23 in Islamabad launched a campaign to reduce incidents of violence against healthcare workers. [ICRC]

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) July 23 in Islamabad launched a campaign to reduce incidents of violence against healthcare workers. [ICRC]

ISLAMABAD -- The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has launched a campaign in Pakistan to reduce violence against healthcare workers in hospitals in an effort to protect personnel and ensure better treatment of patients.

The initiative comes as healthcare workers have become more vulnerable to assaults by families whose loved ones are hospitalised, said Dr. Zafar Iqbal Mirza, the state minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Co-ordination.

The problem is commonly observed and growing, he said, adding that Pakistan has implemented nothing yet to confront it.

"It is a great initiative to pay respect to healthcare providers and contribute toward better services at our hospitals," Mirza said at a one-day workshop in Islamabad Tuesday (July 23) to launch the initiative, known as "Barosa Karein" (Trust Them).

The campaign aims to draw attention to the issue in Pakistan as part of a wider global effort entitled Health Care in Danger (HCiD).

Such violence affects workers as well as the care received by patients, said Dragana Kojic, head of the ICRC's delegation in Pakistan.

"Violence in health care is a humanitarian challenge that undermines access to and provision of healthcare services and is detrimental to the prevention and eradication of diseases," she said at the event.

Changing public behaviour

As part of the campaign, public service messages about the consequences of violence in hospitals will be broadcast on TV, radio and social media.

"We need to bring about change in public behaviour at healthcare facilities to ensure the safety of professionals ... from relatives of patients," Kojic said.

A study conducted by the ICRC last year showed that healthcare workers often face assaults from patients' families and recommended effective steps to curb these acts at medical facilities, said Rimsha Qureshi, an ICRC spokesperson in Pakistan.

Such attacks have been the prime reason behind medical personnel quitting their jobs, according to the 46-page study. That situation tends to create a chaotic environment, making it difficult for healthcare providers to provide optimum care, she said.

Lawmakers have drafted a bill to protect hospital staff, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's secretary of health, Dr. Syed Farooq Jamil, said in an interview.

"Addressing violence in health care calls for a multi-pronged responses including problem analysis, designing and promotion of laws and practical interventions, advocacy and awareness," he said. "Sustained efforts by all stakeholders for effecting a behavioural change remain the key to ensuring better protection for health care."

Mismatch of expectations, realities

One example that occurs at hospitals is when patients cannot find a wheelchair or trolley and their enraged families and friends lash out, said Dr. Hamid Shehzad, director of emergency care at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

"There is a mismatch between ... expectations and realities on the ground," he said.

While increased security in Pakistan has helped quell terrorism, healthcare workers and medical institutions still can be overwhelmed by the number of patients arriving after suicide bombings and other terrorist acts, creating additional stress for staff and hampering the availability of quality services.

"We receive victims of bombings, road accidents, gunshots and other sicknesses, which keep healthcare workers extremely busy," Hamid said. "In these circumstances, the [families and relatives] of patients become disappointed when they don't get satisfactory responses and are prompted to adopt the path of violence."

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