Special assistant to the P.M. on Health says front-line health professionals will be provided security, PPE training and tax exemptions
The Government of Pakistan on Friday announced a long-awaited support package for frontline healthcare workers as health services in the country risk being overwhelmed by a surge in new infections of the novel coronavirus.
In recent days, medical professionals have voiced concerns over the virus’ impact on their fraternity, as hundreds of healthcare workers nationwide have become infected with the deadly virus, while nearly 50 have lost their lives to it.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, in a televised address on Thursday, announced that the government would soon unveil a special package for healthcare workers to prove it was aware of the difficulties being faced by them. On Friday, addressing a press conference, Special Assistant to the P.M. on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza said the package was divided into seven parts covering financial compensation, training, prioritized healthcare and recognition of their efforts at the national level.
According to the de facto health minister, front-line health workers—those who are directly involved with treating COVID-19 patients—would be granted tax exemptions. In addition, a Martyrs Package was announced under which financial assistance would be provided to families of healthcare workers who lose their lives due to the pandemic. This package would range from Rs. 3 million to Rs. 10 million, depending on their existing experience. Moreover, he said, the healthcare workers would be recognized and awards announced for them on national days.
The special assistant to the P.M. said that the Health Ministry would, in cooperation with the National Disaster Management Authority, would assess the weekly requirements of hospitals across the country to ensure frontline health workers would have required masks and safety kits available to them.
Dr. Mirza said several incidents of violence had occurred in healthcare facilities by grieving and angry families of patients, and the government would now ensure foolproof security arrangements for healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients. In line with this, he said, a code of conduct was being drafted in collaboration with PEMRA to prevent character assassination of healthcare workers in the media.
The top health official said the government was also launching training programs for healthcare workers on two fronts—a short course for 5,000 intensive care workers in collaboration with experts from a Chinese university; 1,000 healthcare workers have already been trained under this course. Additionally, under the ‘We Care’ training program, 100,000 healthcare workers would be trained online on safety measures, said Mirza, adding that 20,000 had been trained under this head already.
He said that, when needed, testing of healthcare workers and their families would be prioritized, as would the provision of specialized medicines for their treatment. “Families of healthcare workers will be treated [free of cost] in hospitals on panel,” he added.
According to Mirza, emotional support for front-line healthcare workers was being provided under ‘Psycho Social Support,’ which will provide support and training on psychological issues. He said the 1166 helpline was being expanded under this initiative.
Concluding the press conference, the special assistant to the P.M. said the State Bank of Pakistan had also introduced a ‘Refinance Facility for COVID-19’ facility under which loans were being provided to private hospitals on ‘easy’ terms so they could enhance their capacity. Imports of hospitals would be tax-deductible and efforts would be made to ensure tax concessions, he added.