ISLAMABAD -  Several basic health units of the Aga Khan Health Service Pakistan have been shut for the last one week in the Gilgit-Baltistan as hundreds of nursing and paramedical staffers have taken to the streets against the expected downsizing and rationalisation of employees, who have been serving in the health units for the last several years.

The staffers have converged on the Gilgit city after locking primary healthcare units in Yasin, Gupis, Ishkomen, Punyal, Hunza, Nagar and other parts of the GB, protesting against the AKHSP management and CEO Syed Nadeem Abbas, who they accuse of conspiring against the health service setup, established by Prince Karim Aga Khan .

The protesting staffers said that they had been rendering services in different AKHSP centres in remote and far-flung and almost inaccessible areas of the GB but the current management, according to them, was bent on shutting the units in the name of rationalisation and downsizing, planning to lay off hundreds of employees, some of whom have served for over 30 years since the AKHSP centres were made functional in the GB in 1976.

According to the protesters, the current AKHP management instead of assuring them of job security has prepared termination letters in the name of “golden handshake” under which a “meagre amount” is being offered.

“I have served in the AKHSP for the last 26 years and we are being offered 26 basic salaries, and by that formula, I and other staffers will end up getting only Rs0.2 million, which is a joke,” said one of the staffers wishing not to be identified fearing repercussions from the management.

“The current management and the CEO are attempting to turn the AKHSP into a profit-oriented unit instead of being service-oriented as per the vision of His Highness [Prince Karim Aga Khan],” another nurse claimed, mentioning that the management had also set unachievable targets for them.

She said that instead of improving the existing basic health units, they were closing them in the name of creating secondary-care centres in fewer areas, conversely, laying off the redundant staff.

According to sources, the AKHSP management had dispatched some officials from Islamabad with the “termination letters” however they could not deliver them as some of the protesting staffers had threatened to resort to extreme actions including self-immolation.

“I have been working with the AKHSP for the last 24 years and we remained with the set up through thick and thin and at the cost of our families and children. Now while our children have gotten admissions in colleges and universities and they need our support, the AKHSP management is terminating us,” another staff member said, demanding of the GB and the federal governments to take up their issue with Prince Karim Aga Khan .

She said that since most of the AKDN branches were partly donor-funded and there was no justification to lay-off such a huge staff. The protesting staffers also alleged that the CEO Abbas and his team were devouring millions of rupees on their perks and privileges, and instead of cutting redundant expenditures and costs, they were “plotting” to render them jobless, whose per annum cumulative salary, according to them, was less than the six-month salary of the CEO.

Meanwhile, the AKHSP management, when contacted, said that “In order to increase efficiency and serve growing needs of its patients, the AKHSP is recalibrating its health service delivery to ensure that it can remain independent and self-sustainable. A cornerstone of this approach is to ensure partnerships with national and local governments and other health service providers – both within the AKDN, such as the Aga Khan University to ensure improved health services in the long term”. “The new model has been made possible due to hospital expansion in the Booni Medical Centre and Gilgit Medical Centre, improvements in e-health, outreach visits from the CHC’s to the BHC’s and government investment in healthcare through [the] AKHSP partnerships along with infrastructure. Employees affected by the closure of a health centre, as an outcome of the recalibration, will be accommodated as per AKHSP Executive Committee approval and the law of the land,” it added.