Human RightsNATIONAL

The admirable Services to the Bajaur Christian Community in the Health Sector during the Covid-19 Outbreak

By: Shah Khalid Shah Jee

Fifty-five-year-old Jamshed Akash, a member of the Christian community in Bajaur District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been working as a head sweeper at the District Headquarters, Hospital Khar, for the past 32 years. He has faced many difficult situations during his duty, but from the first wave of the Covid-19 epidemic to the third wave, he described some moments of his duty as unforgettable moments of his life.

Jamshed Akash says that during theCovid-19 epidemic, his duty was in the isolation ward and morgue where he was on duty all night. Along with doctors and other health staff, he also arranged for the coffins of those who diedfrom Corona, which are unforgettable events. Because during this time, like in the rest of the country, there was an atmosphere of fear in Bajaur due to the Covid-19 epidemic and people were reluctant to be near each other. But Jamshed Akash said he performed his duty without any fear because he sees his it as a sacred duty.

According to him, when he went home in the morning after night duty, he would sanitize himself and later he would meet his children and family members.He still felt that he could not find rest. Then he would return to work because this was an emergency situation. The workers couldn’t sleep and were always worried about their work.Akash Karuna explains the precautionary measures against the Covid-19 epidemic during the outbreak. He and other staff who were on duty at the Covid-19Isolation Ward were trained by the ward in-charge, Dr. Fazlur Rehman, on how to treat a Covid-19 patient and how to serve and how to keep yourself safe. They were trying their best to follow these SOPs while on duty.

“When we set up the Corona Isolation Ward in Bajaur, I first called the health workers of the Christian community and trained them to understand that corona is a new disease,” said Dr Fazlur Rehman, in-charge of the corona isolation ward at District Headquarters Hospital Khar. “There is no need to be afraid of it. Inshallah, we will fight it and serve the affected patients under precautionary measures. So the whole Christian community acted on it wholeheartedly and didn’t give us a chance to complain.”

Some of his own people fell victim to Covid-19while on duty, but after recovering, they returned to duty with renewed vigor and never showed hesitation. “So I laud the health workers of the Christian community that they happily performed their duties in difficult times because in the first wave ofthe Covid-19 epidemic, some people refused to perform their duties.Some people heard the name Corona and they ran away.  The Christian community did not pay attention to these things. Christian community health workers deserve great rewards.”  According to Dr. Fazlur Rehman, the names of these workers have been sent to the top officials of the hospital for the awards, he will recommend them for the awards, andhe will recommend giving awards and prizes to them if the opportunity arises in the future.

Akash and his wife were affected by Covid-19 while on duty during the outbreak.  He quarantined himself at home and had a high fever for several days and at the same time was having difficulty breathing due to constant headaches and sore throats. He spent twenty days in quarantine and used the medicine as directed by the doctors and by the grace of Allah Almighty his test came back negative after 20 days.Now he is fully recovered but due to Covid-19 his immunity has been weakened. He is still feeling weak because of this. But he is doing his duty with the same dedication and passion as before.Akash is proud to serve the people as he is performing a sacred duty. He added that he was encouraged by the doctors at his hospital but was completely ignored when those on duty at the front line during the Covid-19 epidemic were receiving awards and certificates of recognition. This upset him.

In response to a question about the work of the Christian community workers of the Bajaur Health Department during the outbreak, Dr. Wazir Khan Safi, Medical Superintendent (MS), District Headquarters Hospital, Khar Bajaur, discussed the courage and bravery ofthe Christian community.“They have done their duties during the Covid-19 epidemic and are still doing it, for which I appreciate them. Because, without any hesitation, their male and female staff performed their duties with which not only me but the entire hospital staff is satisfied. They have not taken leave and have never been late for duty, but wherever and whenever they were assigned duties, they fully cooperated and performed their duties.”

Commenting on the fact that the Christian community workers in the Bajaur health sector did not receive awards and certificates, Dr. Wazir Khan said that the ceremony held to encourage all the front line health workers on duty in the Covid-19 epidemic was attended by the Christian community. Their representatives also received awards and cash. “We have not organized any such awards ceremony by the hospital yet but soon we will hold a ceremony in which we will invite all of them and we will also give those awards and certificates. Besides, the doors of my office are always open for them and they can meet me whenever they have any problem. I will solve their problem immediately. Because they are part of our hospital and their services are unforgettable.”

According to the information provided by Jamil Bismal, General Secretary, All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Bajaur District, about the population figures of the Christian community in Bajaur, there have been 327 registered Christian families living in Bajaur for four decades. Of these, 48 people are serving in the health sector, including 12 women and 36 men. Of these, 2 women and 4 men were sickwith Covid-19 and are now recovering and performing their duties.

Among these health workers from the Christian community is 60 year old  Pervez Masih,, president of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, Bajaur District, who has been living in Bajaur for the past 35 years. Pervez Masih is asanitary worker at District Headquarters Hospital Khar. His hometown is Nowshera District but he has spent 35 years in Bajaur and people have given him so much love that he now considers Bajaur as his home. Pervez Masih is currently on cleaning duty at the Trauma Center of District Headquarters Hospital Khar. He said that he has done his duty without any fear during the Covid-19 epidemic. Although there was an atmosphere of fear everywhere, he did not give up and continued his work. It is an honor for Pervez Masih to do his duty during the Covid-19 epidemic.  because he believes that serving people in difficult times is the best form of worship.

Working as a front line health worker is always a risk and that is why Pervez Masih also fell victim to Covid-19.Due to his old age, he had to go through severe pain because Covid-19 is a dangerous disease which causes pain all over the body. Persistent high fever and shortness of breath are the major symptoms he faced. According to him, at one time he felt that he was about to die but his conscience was still satisfied that he had selflessly served the people.

Pervez Masih said that he not only performed his duty well during the Corona epidemic but also encouraged the patients and other people coming to the hospital that Covid-19 is a disease and one should not be afraid of it, just be careful. Like Jamshed Akash, Pervez Masih said that in recognition of his services, the government as well as political parties in Bajaur did not give him any awards or certificates to encourage him.

Regarding the services of Pervez Masih and other members of the Christian community in the health sector during the Covid-19 epidemic not being encouraged by political parties, Jamaat-e-Islami Bajaur District Deputy Amir Qari Abdul Majeed said that, as in all sectors , the Christian community has rendered services during the Covid-19 Outbreak. They have played the role of front line workers. As the services of doctors have been recognized and they have received certificates of appreciation and awards, so should the lower ranking staff, including members of the Christian community.

He added that it is the responsibility of the central and provincial governments to organize awards and prizes for them as they are also citizens of this country and have the right to be recognized for their services so that they can be encouraged. “ I would like to bring this to the notice of all political parties and social organizations so that they too can take steps for this. “What steps has Jamaat-e-Islami taken so far to help or encourage the Christian community?”

Qar Abdul Majeed said that,“I will talk to the party leadership to give them awards. On the one hand, such measures will encourage the Christian community, but on the other hand, it will further expand religious harmony. We value the services of the people of the Christian community. They are Pakistani citizens and have an importance in our society that no one can deny. This is not only the duty of the Christian community but all who serve Pakistan and take special care of its cleanliness and health. It is our responsibility.”

According to Jamshed Akash, awards ceremonies were also organized by social organizations in Bajaur and awards and shields were given to those who performed their duties on the front line during theCovid-19 epidemic, including an awards ceremony by Tribal Youth Forum and Youth of Bajaur.  He was also ignored which made him sad.

When asked, thechairman of Tribal Youth Forum, Youth of Bajaurand Member SalarKhyber Pakhtunkhwa program, prominent social worker Engineer Rehan Zeb Khan, why he had not invited members of the Christian community from Bajaur’s health sector to the awards show,he said that the event was not just for the people in the health department but for all the departments, media representatives and charities that did well during the Covid-19 epidemic and that’s why they invited every department. One person was selected and a doctor from the Department of Health was also awarded.

“But I appreciate the role of the Christian community in the health sector, that they have done so well and are still doing well.” Rehan Zeb further said that “I will definitely hold a separate awards ceremony for them immediately after Eid and will award them with awards and certificates as no conscious person can deny their services.”

No one in any society can deny the role of the media and that is why Jamshed Akash also expressed his displeasure over the fact that he does not get proper coverage in the media and therefore people are not aware of their services.

When asked about this, Noor Mohammad Banuri, District Reporter of Khabareen and Channel 5, said that to some extent Jamshed Akash is right but he has given them coverage from time to time and highlighted their problems. For example, there was an issue about a church and stories about it were published in the newspapers and therefore this issue was brought to the attention of higher authorities. Then work began on building the church and now the church is in the final stages of completion. Similarly, they have reported on Christian religious festivals, but during the Covid-19 epidemic, there was no special reporting on their services. “We will do future reporting and we will all play our part as journalists to encourage them.”

The district government had taken several steps to prevent the Covid-19 epidemic and encourage those working on the front line, but Jamshed Akash has complained to them about ignoring his community.

Therefore, when Jamshed Akash’s complaint was raised in front of the Covid-19 focal person of District administration and Additional Deputy Commissioner District BajaurZameen Khan Mohmand, he paid tribute to the services rendered by the members of the Christian community health workers during the Covid-19 epidemic and said that he played a role on the front lines at a time when even the families of Covid-19 patients were reluctant to approach him.

In response to asking why the health workers of the Christian community have not yet received the awards, Additional Deputy Commissioner Zameen Khan said that they have received food packages from time to time during the Covid-19 lockdown. The people of his community were also greeted at the salute ceremony and even today we continue to salute them but it is true that not everyone got awards. So we will hold a separate ceremony for them and give awards to all their members along with other health staff.

In addition, Wilson Wazir, a minority member of the Provincial Assembly, had recently visited Bajaur and had a detailed discussion with him on various welfare schemes for the Christian community, including allocating land for their cemetery. This included building residential flats, and increasing the quota for jobs from 2% to 5%. In Bajaur, work is underway to build a church for them, which is in the final stages. The Christian community should focus on higher education so that they can get good jobs as they have their own quota in each department. The government is working hard for the welfare of the Christian community because it is an important part of our society and without it our society is incomplete.

Usually, people on duty encounter different kinds of problems from people during an emergency situation. Regarding the attitude of doctors and other people on duty, Akash said that the attitude of doctors was and is good but sometimes patients’ relatives do not take care of cleanliness due to lack of knowledge and do not follow SOPs properly. Because of this, he used to face difficulties in his duty but when the people learned how to follow SOPS they regretted their previous behavior and then cooperated fully.

Islam teaches us tolerance. From the Islamic point of view about the services of the Christian community, Maulana Abdul Haleem, a prominent religious scholar from Bajaur, said that Islam teaches equality. “As far as the role of the members of the health department of the Christian community in Bajaur district during theCovid-19 epidemic is concerned, they are commendable, as I have heard that the entire burial of the victims of the Covid-19 epidemic was arranged by the members of the Christian community. So I think the Christian community should be given full credit for their services, whether in the form of cash prizes or awards and certificates. Islam teaches us to treat non-Muslims well and does not allow anyone to be deprived of their rights on the basis of religion. If non-Muslims abide by Islam and the laws of the land, then the government should give them the same rights as other citizens of the country.”

Maulana Abdul Haleem further said that the people of the Christian community should not be disappointed and should continue their duties in the same way. He also appealed to the people to thank them and not to hate them but to praise and encourage them. This enhance religious tolerance.

Pervez Masih will retire in a few months, but he still feels that he would like to continue to serve the people afterwards.. He says he will continue to serve his community as well as the Muslim community and will be there whenever they need him because he considers the people of Bajaur as his own.

Awards or certificates are given to people by the government, social, political and welfare organizations in recognition of their outstanding services in any field.

Jamshed Akash said that he does not need awards and certificates because he does his work with a sense of duty. But when other people receive awards, they also have the right to have their community receive similar awards and certificates so that they can be more motivated.

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