off record
Shaukat Ali Jawaid

Recognize and Respect
the HCPs before
it is too late



Prof. Major General Muhammad Aslam has written a manuscript entitled “Better Brain Drain than Brain in the Drain” which is being published prominently in this issue on front page. He has not only highlighted the reasons for brain drain but also suggested some remedial measures.

Brain drain is a very important and highly sensitive subject which has been agitating the minds of the medical profession in Pakistan now for over three decades. Members of the medical profession have been maligned, humiliated and their character assassination by the media, most often without any justification, has been going on during every government whether it was a political set up or military dictatorship. However, during the last few years it has crossed all limits and we saw Punjab Institute of Cardiology being stormed by a mob while the provincial government remained a silent spectator and took no preventive measures. Not only that we also saw guards of a provincial health minister injuring a faculty member of a medical college just to mention a few incidents. No one will disagree with monitoring and accountability of the medical profession but one has to differentiate between human errors and professional negligence.

Some of the eminent medical personalities who have suffered a great deal in the past few years include late Prof. Iftikhar Ahmad who was made OSD numerous times, Prof. Mahmood Ali Malik who was removed as Chairman of Board of Governors of Fatima Jinnah Medical College/Gaga Ram Hospital Lahore when they spoke the truth which was highly unpalatable for the rulers, late Prof. Saeedul Haque Chaudhry Project Director of Children Hospital Lahore who refused to oblige supplier of electro medical equipment’s, Prof. Shaharyar Sheikh the eminent cardiologist of the country who committed the sin of completing the project of Punjab Institute of Cardiology working day and night visiting provincial secretariat frequently to move the project files and solicit much needed funding using his contacts in the government, Prof. Saeed Akhtar the renowned liver transplant surgeon who committed the crime of building the Punjab Institute of Kidney and Liver Transplant at Lahore, Prof. Junaid Sarfraz former Vice Chancellor of University of Health Sciences who was arrested, put in jail and investigated, humiliated whose crime is not even known to the government. He was later released and the Supreme Court issued a few lines press release that he was not found guilty and it will have no effect on his professional career. It is not difficult to imagine the agony and mental torture which his elderly parents must have faced throughout those months when he was in Jail. The wounds afflicted by such acts never heal even with the passage of time. These are just a few examples which one can recall to prove that how innocent eminent medical personalities have been tortured, humiliated in Pakistan. The return of Civil Award by an eminent gastroenterologist of Pakistan Dr. Saad Khalid Niaz more recently to express his frustration over ignoring the healthcare professionals who sacrificed their lives, many worked round the clock putting not only their own but their family members at risk while managing Covid patients who were ignored during the Civil Awards announced by the Government of Pakistan on August 14th is yet another manifestation of resentment, frustration prevalent among the members of the medical profession these days.

Some of the reasons for brain drain mentioned by Prof. Muhammad Aslam include lack of opportunities for professional growth, bureaucratic behavior, lack of credible research institutions, bribery at every step in daily life, inadequate salary and other perks and privileges, lack of quality living and education, lack of appropriate employment opportunities, lack of healthcare facilities, lack of self-respect and dignity in the society etc. The medical profession also has some serious reservations about the functioning of the Pakistan Medical Commission and Higher Education Commission which needs to be resolved through meaningful dialogue with all the stake holders.

Prof. General Muhammad Aslam, it may be mentioned here hails from a rural most backward district of South Punjab Dera Ghazi Khan. He graduated from Nishtar Medical College Multan and then joined Army service. His competence and ability prompted the Army medical leadership to select him superseding his seniors for higher studies abroad to earn PhD. He did not disappoint those who had selected him. After earning PhD, despite lucrative offers of faculty appointments at prestigious medical institutions in UK, he decided to return back and serve his motherland. He rose to the position of Professor and later occupied many coveted positions of Principal Army Medical College, and after retirement Principal of Shifa College of Medicine at Islamabad. Not only that when it was upgraded as a medical university, he served as its Vice Chancellor. He was later selected as Vice Chancellor of University of Health Sciences at Lahore and during his tenure UHS remained a hub of academic activities and earned the first position in ranking among the public sector medical universities. After completing his tenure, he was selected as Pro Vice Chancellor of National University of Medical Sciences which wanted to benefit from his rich experience and now again he is affiliated with Tameer-e-Millat University Shifa College of Medicine as Director of Postgraduate programmes planning to start M.Phil. and PhD programmes. Hence, when he speaks, he brings with him decades of experience of serving in public and private medical college, medical universities. He is the one who knows the ground realities, working environment in medical institutions in Pakistan and the issues which agitate the minds of healthcare professionals and affect their working. Hence the rulers must listen to him and initiate measures to improve the present state of affairs in the health sector before it is too late. Let the rulers, society at large and the media in particular, recognize, honour, respect them before the situation takes an ugly turn and HCPs are forced to speak the language which the rulers in developing Third World counties understand. They might resort to agitation, strikes hence it is much better to avoid such situations because once it reaches to that level, then it is much more difficult to defuse the situation. I remember once the then Punjab Health Secretary Mr. Ismail Qureshi was the chief guest at the KEMCANA dinner. In his speech he reiterated the same allegations which are levelled by the rulers and the bureaucracy in particular that Pakistani doctors do wonders when they go abroad but do not work with same dedication and devotion in Pakistan. Later at the dinner table, I had told him that they must try to find out the reasons behind this. He was further informed that even the best quality seed will not grow if the soil is not well prepared and no watering as per requirements are provided. Even if the plants grow, it won’t become trees and fade away. Hence, the rulers must try to improve the working conditions of doctors, provide them enough perks and privileges considering their education and training to attract them to stay in Pakistan and work with devotion and dedication.

Let the rulers listen to the sane advice of medical educationists, health administrators like Prof. Major General Muhammad Aslam rather than listening and following the advice of part-time Pakistanis who decided to settle abroad and have no personal stakes in this country. The medical profession on its part should start a social boycott of those who do not respect them. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr. Justice Saqib Nisar is reported to have humiliated Prof. Saeed Akhtar after calling him to his residence saying why he was getting so much salary. He forgot about the perks and privileges which other government servants particularly in the higher bureaucracy and even the respectable members of higher judiciary, Pakistan Cricket Board officials enjoy. The medical profession should never invite such personalities to their functions and do not attend, boycott the functions where they are present. This will send a message to others as well.

I love poetry which has a message that is why I often share some couplet from some famous Ghazal in this column. This time too I added a couplet from a Ghazal which I like the most and would like to conclude this column with yet another couplet from the same Ghazal for the readers to enjoy.

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