Guess what doctors in J&K do? They write press releases, run social media accounts

Guess what doctors in J&K do? They write press releases, run social media accounts

Srinagar: Senior doctors are writing press releases and doing PR (public relations) work for the J&K Health Department, even though crores of rupees have been separately budgeted for such Information, Education and Communication (IEC) activities.

Nearly 40 percent of the Rs 70 crore budgeted for IEC activities has remained unspent in the past four years. Doctors have been assigned duties of ‘media in-charge’ and ‘IEC officer’ for various schemes of the health department, while several public health schemes and disease surveillance programmes are working without IEC activities, making it difficult for people to get information about them.

Between 2014 and 2017, more than Rs 70 crore was allocated for IEC activities under various schemes, but less than half of it was spent. Official sources told Kashmir Reader that no record is maintained of the fund utilisation for IEC activities.

“This year also, a huge amount remained unspent due to the absence of trained staff for the campaigns,” said an official. He said that Rs 20 crore was allocated for the year 2016-17 to run health awareness and education programmes, but only about 40 percent was spent. In the absence of IEC staff, it is doctors who are managing IEC activities, he said.

“Programmes such as RNTCP and NLEP have a separate post of IEC officer, but the post is vacant as no appointment has taken place. The DTO and other doctors are assigned the job of producing media programmes and health education campaigns,” said an administrator in the Health Department.

He said that under the Revised National TB Control Program (RNTCP), Dr Showkat Lalu, who is the State Tuberculosis Officer (STO), supervises the IEC activities of the scheme.

“In districts, the IEC activities are being handled by District Tuberculosis Officers (DTOs) themselves. Most of them are the blue-eyed doctors who have been occupying the posts for 5 to 12 years,” the official said.

The “overstaying” DTOs include Dr Syed Faheem Aalam (Anantnag), Dr Zahoor Malik (Pulwama), Dr Muhammad Ramzan (Kupwara), Dr Tehzeena Jameel (Baramulla) and Dr Ishfaq Ahmad (Srinagar). They have been handling the IEC activities for several years in absence of an IEC officer.

Sources said that the State Tuberculosis Cell had advertised the post of IEC Officer some years ago for the RNTCP. However, no one has been appointed yet.

“Officials create hurdles in the way of appointments, as they want to keep the huge funds available for themselves,” an official said.

Dr Lalu, who is also working as Deputy Director Schemes, is handling IEC activities of more than five schemes including National Leprosy Eradication Program (NLEP), The National Tobacco Control Cell, National Program for Health Care of the Elderly (NPHCE), National Program for Control of Blindness, and National Mental Health Program.

Dr SM Kadri, who is working as State Surveillance Officer under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Program (IDSP), handles all IEC activities himself, from preparing pamphlets to running multimedia campaigns.

Of the National Program for Communicable Diseases (NCD), Dr Rehana Kounser is the “media in-charge”. She runs the public health campaigns and other IEC activities.

Meanwhile, the ‘media cell’ of the Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, has been lying defunct as very limited activities take place under it, an official informed.

Dr GA Wani, who is in charge of the Rehbar-i-Sehat programme, runs all the IEC activities himself and sometimes private agencies are hired to prepare the multimedia material.

“The media cell of the Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, comes under direct control of Director Dr Saleem-ur-Rehman, while the main functioning is run by a dentist, Dr Ijtaba Shafi, who was assigned the job of ‘media in-charge’ without following any proper rule,” said an official.

He said Dr Shafi has become a ‘multipurpose worker’ as he has to attend all events of the Health Department, write press releases, and run social media accounts.

“Dr Shafi has been attached to the health directorate, creating an unnecessary vacancy at District Hospital Ganderbal where he was posted earlier,” said an official.

According to him, Dr Shafi has to attend all events including inaugurations to meetings and also prepare press releases.

“The job is primarily of a media and PR professional. However, it has been assigned to a doctor,” said a senior doctor.

“They do everything except treat patients, creating a further shortage of doctors and setting a wrong trend,” the doctor said.