The ‘business’ of medicine

December 21, 2013

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THE accounts of poorly equipped or even non-existent basic healthcare units in rural areas; the mass of ailing humanity waiting for hours outside public hospitals in the hope of seeing a doctor that day — this is only some of the anecdotal evidence that points to the way we are failing millions of our fellow countrymen. It’s not surprising given that we have one of the lowest investments in health, a mere 0.8pc of the budget. And neither can most people afford anything other than the often rudimentary standards of public healthcare for, according to World Bank figures, Pakistan’s poverty rate jumped from 23.9pc to 37.5pc in three years. In fact, the Hobbesian description of the natural state of mankind — “poor, nasty, brutish and short” — could well be applied to the average Pakistani. Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Abdus Sattar Edhi, at the first-ever convocation at the SIUT for physician assistants, said as much when he urged the young graduates to serve humanity rather than “going for money”.

The SIUT, with its much-lauded free healthcare programmes led by Dr Adib Rizvi, is in fact one of the institutions in Pakistan that has consistently upheld the primacy of the right to healthcare regardless of patients’ resources. However, aside from a few other institutes and public-minded individuals, the vast majority of medical professionals have succumbed to the lure of commercialisation in which their services can be accessed by only the comparatively well-to-do section of society. Many doctors who see patients at public hospitals also have lucrative private clinics on the side which receive the bulk of their attention. Inducements in cash and kind by pharmaceutical companies for medical professionals serve to further undermine the interests of the patient. In a country like Pakistan, where the government has abdicated its responsibility towards the citizens’ right to health, medical professionals must reconnect with their basic humanity rather than viewing their work as a money-making business.