THE question of health is never far from the headlines in Pakistan. These days, amongst the issues at the forefront of the public consciousness are the polio eradication programme, the measles deaths saga and the absence of drug regulatory practices. But, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Is Pakistan doing all it can to battle disease on this front? Unfortunately, it appears not. A photograph published recently in this paper shows children in a Hyderabad slum picking a treacherous path through an alley flooded with sewage. But why should we need a picture to remind us of what is a reality in towns and cities across the country?

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Punjab health minister ordered an operation against factories around Lahore that illegally recycle hospital waste. Again, the issue is a common one: recycling apart, hospitals across the country are known to dump infectious waste in places where people can be exposed to it. It also seems that the Kotri industrial area is dumping untreated effluents into canals so that the tainted water finds its way into Karachi’s water supply. Although a treatment plant was installed in the area, it is lying idle because of the uncooperative attitude of industrialists and the lethargy of regulators.

The managers of this country need to learn that tackling health is always a multi-tiered challenge. In all the talk about a creaking and insufficient healthcare system and the need to improve services, the not-so-minor point of cleaning up our act so that the spread of disease isn’t facilitated tends to be forgotten. Granted, inaugurating a new hospital gets an administration more mileage than cleaning up the sewers and water canals. The latter, however, is the unavoidable first step in controlling disease.

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