Many people living in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province lack regular access to medical care, but thanks to the temporary free clinics supported by RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal, hundreds have received treatment recently.
The idea to establish the clinics grew out of Radio Mashaal’s weekly call-in show, “Health and Treatment,” which provides audiences with information on different health issues each week, either based on seasonal ailments or listener requests.
In its fourth year on the air, the program is hosted by Radio Mashaal reporter Pamir Sahil, and the primary medical contributor is Doctor Muhammad Irfanullah. In addition to the hour the doctor dedicates to the program each week, he also makes himself available for advice by telephone two hours each day. But with the demand for medical care so great, Radio Mashaal recognized that more resources were needed.
“People in this area are very poor. They cannot afford to travel, and then pay for the treatment, and then pay to stay in the big cities,” said Radio Mashaal Service Director Mohammad Amin Mudaqiq. “This is a very huge burden for these villagers, who have nothing.”
Moreover, fighting between militants in the region and government forces has decimated whatever medical facilities were available, and driven out medical personnel who feared for their safety.
To help fill the gap in services, Doctor Irfanullah, with the help of Radio Mashaal, launched the first temporary clinic in February in the city of Bannu in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province near North Waziristan. The clinic offered free examinations, lab tests and small-scale surgeries. It drew over 350 patients, and Irfanullah had to work nearly around the clock for three days in order to see everyone.
“The number of calls to the program had been increasing and people expressed hopelessness, that they had no means to treat themselves. Only speaking was not enough,” said Mudaqiq, explaining the initiative.
A second clinic was held in Bannu on March 9. Irfanullah recruited a team of ten volunteer doctors who traveled 300 kilometers south from Peshawar and managed to treat almost 500 patients.
"We have come from Razmak, North Waziristan," said Abdul Sareer as he waited at the clinic on March 9. "We heard about this clinic through Radio Mashaal's 'Health and Treatment' show. In that program Dr. Irfanullah from Peshawar participates, so we came to know about the clinic. About 400 or 500 people have come here."
"I've been treated for 25 years. I changed medicines many times, but it had no impact," said a Pashto woman who declined to give her name. "When I heard about the free clinic on Radio Mashaal, I came here. After the first treatment in last month’s free clinic I am here again and I feel better."
Doctor Irfanullah and Radio Mashaal plan to continue holding these clinics monthly, and have announced plans to hold an April clinic as close to the isolated tribal areas as possible.
Radio Mashaal was founded in 2010 to counter extremist propaganda and provide reliable reporting in Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas along the border with Afghanistan.