KARACHI: Expressing concern over increasing morbidity and mortality in children due to preventable diseases, Pakistan Medical Association office-bearers said on Saturday it was the result of a nexus of vested interests that even after about 120 rounds of oral vaccinations polio virus elimination was still a distant hope in the country.
Presenting the PMA's annual health report - Health of the Nation-2012 - they said that like many other vertical preventive programmes, the years-old polio eradication activities had also fallen prey to "unbelievable corrupt practices" and nobody from the government, political parties or donor agencies was raising the issue.
"Had the donor agencies acted as real taskmasters, polio cases would have ceased emerging in the country, as in India and Bangladesh, many years back," said PMA central president Dr Syed Tipu Sultan.
He said the whole exercise of polio eradication was being prolonged, without any system of merit and audit, as except for polio eradication the quarters concerned had everything on their agenda.
Another senior member of the PMA, Dr Shershah Syed, said the solution to polio problem lay in strengthening the basic health centres and units, enabling them to carry out routine immunisation, which was the first and viable line of defence against polio virus. If we implement routine immunisation honestly, polio cases would stop emerging in the country, he said.
Presenting the PMA health report, its general secretary Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, who was accompanied by president-elect Dr Mohammad Azhar Khan Jadoon, treasurer Dr Qaiser Sajjad and president of the PMA-Karachi Dr Idrees Adhi, said the callousness of the makers and implementers of policies could be gauged from the fact that despite identification of problems in the health sector and suggested solutions, the affairs remained unchanged.
"The existing situation is that a large number of newborns die in the first year of their life, whereas 30,000-35,000 women perish due to complications of pregnancies annually, while tuberculosis, cardiac diseases, diabetes, cancers, kidney diseases and hepatitis B and C are on the rise," he said and urged the government to take timely steps to improve the situation.
He further said that like previous years the health statistics of the country were unsatisfactory and moving forward in such a way that in spite of social development the country might fail to achieve the millennium development goals, set by the United Nations, by the stipulated 2015.
With the availability of 144,901 doctors, 10,508 dentists, 73,244 nurses and 104,137 hospital beds in the country by 2010-2011, the population and health facilities ratio worked at 1,222 persons per doctor, 16,854 persons per dentist and 1701 persons per hospital bed which compared well with other developing countries, he said and added that the government needed to increase its health expenditure and ensure its judicious utilisation.
He said the total outlay of health budget at Rs42 billion (Rs18.7bn for development and Rs23.3bn for recurring expenditures), equivalent to 0.23 per cent of the GDP, certainly was a very meagre investment. Moreover, he said, the PMA was much concerned about the quality of health education being imparted to medical students and the abysmal training facilities available to them.
The PMA demanded a substantial increase in the health budget at the federal and provincial levels, an effective and patient-friendly health policy to provide primary and emergency healthcare to the poor of Pakistan.
The government was also urged to institute an independent drug regulatory authority, restructure medical education as required by the people and revisit the role of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council.
The office-bearers also called for organised campaigns against blindness and maternal deaths, abolishment of quackery at all levels and an aggressive campaign to improve the availability of basic health facilities such as clean drinking water and sanitation to the entire population of the country.
Dr Jadoon demanded that the government allocate at least six per cent of the GDP for the health sector.
Dr Sajjad said prevention aspects in the health sector should be focused on and the government make laws and implement them strictly against the manufacture and sale of chhalia and gutka products and smoking, which could in turn ease the load of cancer cases, largely reported in teenagers and children.