Pakistan has asked French medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to shut its operations in the country’s restive northwest, leaving a “major gap” in healthcare for thousands of local people, the humanitarian organization said.
The decision, which was not immediately confirmed by the government, comes as Pakistani officials are tightening controls on foreign aid organizations working in the country.
Azaad Alessandro Alocco, MSF’s Country Representative in Pakistan, has said the organization was “extremely disappointed” by the move.
A senior MSF source told AFP on Friday that all 120 staff members would be withdrawn from the Bajaur tribal region, part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, by Nov. 17. “The closure will leave thousands of people in Bajaur… without vital healthcare, and comes just seven weeks after MSF was forced to close its project in Kurram, also in (FATA),” the MSF source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “MSF will now have no presence in the FATA, one of the areas of the country where the need for emergency, maternal and child healthcare is most acute,” an MSF statement issued on Thursday said.
Bajaur and Kurram are two of the seven semi-autonomous regions, which make up FATA along the Afghan border, which served as sanctuaries of Taliban and Al Qaeda linked militants for over a decade.
The tribal districts are among the poorest areas in Pakistan, and often complain of neglect by Islamabad. They also remain a top target for militant groups, despite a dramatic increase in security across the country in recent years.
MSF released a statement on Thursday saying it was told by Pakistani authorities that the no-objection certificate (NOC) required for carrying out medical activities in Bajaur will not be renewed. It said authorities had given no reason for the decision.
MSF has been supporting services at a local hospital in Bajaur since 2013, providing medical care in the outpatient, emergency room, and mother and child health departments. “Healthcare services are very limited in the area and most of our patients cannot afford to pay even for basic medical care,” the MSF statement said. “As the only major hospital providing free, quality healthcare in the area, the closure of MSF’s activities will leave a major gap and have serious negative implications for the health of people living in Bajaur and the surrounding areas such as Mohmand Agency.”
MSF has a long history in Pakistan, working with communities affected by natural disasters, conflicts and insufficient healthcare facilities for over 30 years.