LAHORE - Half of the rural health centres (RHCs) and basic health units (BHUs) in Punjab are practically dysfunctional either due to vacant posts or failure of the health mangers in ensuring presence of male and female medical officers.

As many as 2,520 BHUs and 316 RHCs are working across the province to provide necessary healthcare facilities at the primary level. Out of these, Punjab Rural Support Program is managing affairs of 1,149 BHUs and RHCs in 14 districts of the province.

At least 40 per cent of the centres are working without qualified doctors while majority of the remaining are getting rare visits of posted healthcare providers. Besides, unavailability of life saving drugs and equipment, necessary services including electricity and water are hindering healthcare services at majority of the health centres at primary level.

Patients in rural and far flung areas are the ultimate sufferers of lack of initiative on the part of the government to ensure healthcare facilities at grass root level. The prevailing scenario is not only causing huge inconvenience to patients but also putting additional burden on hospitals at secondary and tertiary care level.

Though the government has taken initiatives to improve working of RHCs and BHUs, all of these are confined to papers leaving the hapless patients with no other option except to travel a long distance for the ailment for which they should have been treated at primary level.

The Punjab government has made arrangements of keeping around 650 BHUs and more than 300 RHCs functional round the clock for MNCH services including safe deliveries. The government itself accepted failure of concerned quarters in ensuring working of these 24/7 centres. The chief secretary has recently conveyed to the relevant districts that 67 per cent of the 24/7 BHUs and 45 per cent of RHCs were not working properly due to unavailability of necessary facilities. As per the CS, the situation was noticed at Chief Minister’s Stocktake meeting.

The criterion for 24/7 centres include posting of five doctors and allied health staff, functional electricity, backup power (UPS plus batteries for BHUs and generators for RHCs), water supply, patients toilets, delivery tables, delivery lights (LED), emergency tables and blood pressure apparatus. Costly LED lights, generators, UPS and batteries at these centres have become dysfunctional, causing doctors to carryout deliveries under emergency lights.

The chief secretary has directed administration of relevant districts to ensure repair/replacement of out of order equipment and availability of other facilities at these 24/7 centres at the earliest.

But what to say about BHUS and RHCs in remote areas of the province when a similar such facility in the constituency of Punjab Chief Minister is not up to the mark. Although RHC Kahna owns an ambulance, it is not for patients and being used by a doctor posted at the RHC.

The situation at BHUs and RHCs managed by PRSP is not different due to lack of interest on the part of health authorities in 14 districts in timely release of grant in aid as per the agreement. Delay in release of amount to PRSP has resulted into stoppage of salaries to hundreds of doctors and allied health staff.

The Primary and Secondary Healthcare (P&SHC) department has also planned launching ambulance service for pregnant women and children in unprivileged rural areas. This initiative has yet to be piloted in selected districts.

At present, ambulance service is available in seven flood-hit areas of southern Punjab for shifting of women to BHUs and RHCs. As the facility is insufficient for huge population, people in far flung areas are still using ancient mode of transportation like animal carts for shifting pregnant women.