THIS country’s healthcare sector is already under severe stress; it is going to get worse. The youth bulge in the population demographic means that health, particularly of children, will remain a serious issue. How prepared are we? A clue can be found in the research findings shared at the 35th National Ophthalmic Conference in Karachi on Friday: babies born with low birth weight or prematurely, and required to spend time in intensive care units, are vulnerable to developing retinopathy of prematurity, a major cause of childhood blindness that is preventable if detected early. While there is no data on how prevalent it is in Pakistan, in the US the incidence stands at 15.58 per cent of premature infants and in Iran at 34.5. Few parents must be aware of this health risk. But when a survey was conducted in five major Karachi hospitals to estimate how many health-sector professionals were aware of the need to run diagnostics, it was found that 47 per cent of the paramedical staff had never heard of the condition.

On the other side of the coin is the situation at Lahore’s health department-run Children’s Hospital, one of the largest such tertiary-care facilities in Pakistan. It is facing an acute shortage of doctors. Of the institution’s 43 departments, only seven are headed by professors; 85 positions of senior doctors, including 36 professors, are vacant. Due to the lack of specialist physicians and surgeons, patients are daily turned away or referred to private facilities. Taken together, this is indeed an indictment of the country’s dedication to raising healthy future generations. Reversing this trend would take some effort on part of those at the helm. The question is, do they care enough?

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