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Health indicators reflect worsening situation over years: report

Published Mar 09, 2014 08:14am

KARACHI: The ‘Health of the Nation’ report compiled by the Pakistan Medical Association shows that the health indicators in Pakistan have not improved during the last many years and in some areas the situation has worsened.

“The health indicators failed to show any improvement for many years now and, in fact, in some areas the things have gone from bad to worse,” said the report launched at the PMA House on Saturday.

It compared certain basic indicators with the last year’s report and said poverty had gone beyond 50 per cent from the last year’s 35pc while the governance vis-à-vis service provision had gone downhill.

Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, secretary general of the PMA, who presented the report, referred to the World Health Organisation’s recommendations putting 6pc of the GDP as the minimum health budget in any country, but it was less than 1pc in Pakistan ‘despite hectic pursuance by the PMA hierarchy’.

“Even that 1pc is not properly spent on public health as more than 80pc is spent on paying salaries and administrative costs,” he said.

And the rest of the 20pc, which should mean to be for the public, was sparsely used as a large chunk of it was splurged by the ‘abyss of corruption’.

The report said Pakistan carried a heavy burden of diseases because of the poor healthcare delivery system at the primary level and due to lack of awareness and ignorance about the diseases.

It said most diseases were preventable through vaccination or immunisation or by the way of simple mass awareness and provision of some basic facilities by the government.

“Just by providing clean potable water and proper sanitation to the people we can get rid of diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery, gastroenteritis, typhoid, hepatitis etc and fiscally challenged country can save billions of rupees, which are being consumed by the treatment of the very diseases.”

It said an effective vaccination programme, if carried out properly, could eradicate polio, tuberculosis, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, smallpox, hepatitis, typhoid, meningitis, pneumonia, mumps, rubella etc for good.

“Unfortunately, health and education are not priority areas of our governments,” it said and demanded that the government adumbrate a people-friendly health policy, increase the health budget, concentrate on preventive healthcare, eliminate corruption, honour merit and “demonstrate a political will to address the issues of health and education in the country on a priority basis”.

It said that 2015 was round the corner yet Pakistan was many miles away from achieving the targets set under the millennium development goals.

The report said dengue incidence was phenomenal in 2013, in Swat and Sindh in particular, with a combined 55 deaths. It said Pakistan was among the countries where the highly infectious viral disease was endemic.

The report showed 72 polio cases for Pakistan last year, 21 less than what the WHO’s figures show, yet it said the incidence was much more than Nigeria’s 50 and Afghanistan’s nine cases.

It said Pakistan had the highest under-five mortality rate in South Asia, which was 86.5 per 1,000. Nearly 94 million people (52pc of the total population) did not have access to improved sanitation. The disparities in urban and rural areas were quite visible, as out of the 94 million people who did not use improved sanitation facilities, 75 million lived in rural areas. And 40 million people who defecated in the open, a vast majority of 37 million of them, lived in rural areas.

It called the United Nations Development Programme’s human development index report as an ‘eye-opener’. At the moment, Pakistan falls in the ‘low human development’ category; the country’s expenditure on social sectors is lower than some of the poorest African countries such as Democratic Republic of Congo, which spends 1.2pc of its GDP on health and 6.2pc on education, much higher than Pakistan’s 0.8pc on health and 1.8pc on education.

It said India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had much superior figures in the region.

The report also discussed a crisis in medical education and threats to doctors and healthcare workers.