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Dr. Syed Tabassum Jafri did his MBBS from Sindh Medical College thirteen years ago. Besides working as medical officer at Qatar Hospital, a public sector in- and out-patient health facility funded and administered by the provincial government of Sindh, in low-income locality of Orangi he also devotes long hours in the evening to a charitable clinic. The clinic, one of many run by Al-Khidmat, a Karachi-based nationwide charitable association, provides out-patient service at affordable prices in middle-income area of North Karachi. He is also secretary of Karachi Chapter of Pakistan Islamic Medical Association (PIMA), a nationwide association which works to achieve two primary objectives. Number one, to upgrade professional activities of medical practitioners and number two, to inculcate Islamic ethics of care which medical profession demands.

By Syed M. Aslam
Sep 03 - 09, 2001

PAGE: You spend long hours at the charitable clinic, some time sitting as late as 1 am, unlike rest of the private clinics which close much earlier in the same locality. Don't you feel inclined at times to start your own practice, like majority of your peers, to reap much better financial reward which it offers?

Dr Tabassum: No. I am content with what I am doing primarily because of my faith that I will be provided with the sustenance that Almighty Allah has written for me. It was not a random choice but rather a planned one, and by the Grace of Allah I succeeded. I am happy to work for an organization whose sole outlook on life is not the worldly financial returns but rather service to humanity.

PAGE: How many patients do you see every night?

Dr Tabassum: On an average some 60-70 patients come to the clinic every night. Sometimes there are as many as 100. We charge Rs 20 for the visit plus medicines given by us for the adults and Rs 15 for children. I feel that the practice gives me the sense of professional satisfaction and personal well-being which no amount of money can purchase. It's nice to be a part of something which feels so good.

PAGE: How PIMA achieves the two primary objectives?

Dr Tabassum: We upgrade the professional activities and knowledge of doctors by organizing seminars on various topics related to the profession. We also publish a magazine which deals with real problems and their possible solutions, for doctors in particular and people in general. We also organize Quraan reading once a week which is open to anyone to help one gain enough knowledge of Arabic to better understand the timeless message of the Holy Book.

PAGE: You interact with a large number of patients everyday? What you feel are the basic health problems?

Dr Tabassum: Public health service should have been the top priority of the government any government. This is also the Islamic perspective which lays a heavy stress on service to humanity, particularly the sick and the suffering. Unfortunately, however, health has never been accorded the importance which it deserves by all the governments which allocated only negligible portion of budgets to what is the top most important sector.

PAGE: What could be done?

Dr Tabassum: I feel that the neglect on the part of the successive governments to keep doctors at least fairly paid in the public sector health related facilities; be it a hospital, clinic or basic health centre, is one of the major cause of declining health services. Keeping doctors officially under-paid has resulted indifference on the part of the doctors thus forcing them to establish their own private practices to charge highly excessive fees and too at will. This has also encouraged doctors to work at several hospitals or clinics everyday thus being not able to devote a quality time to their professional activities. Needless to say the ultimate victim of this is the patient.

PAGE: So doctors in the public sector should be accorded a better remuneration?

Dr Tabassum: Yes. The doctors working in the public health sector, and for that matter also in the private sector, should be well paid to divert their attention fully to their primary responsibility of providing the first class health care and attention. This would be in line with the Hippocratic oath and the Islamic perspective of health, welfare and caring.

PAGE: What about the role of the health facilities in the private sector?

Dr Tabassum: They are helping to fill in the huge vacuum which the public health sector is unable to fill for the reasons mentioned above. They are certainly filling the great demand which the public sector is unable to meet due to restricted funds, inadequate services, unethical attitude and by and large an all frightening indifference. Having said that, however, it is also imperative that the government should come up with a check-and-balance measures to ensure that patients get the value for their money at the private health care facilities. They should not be allowed to charge at will for services which at majority of times don't match the exorbitant fees they charge.