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Neglecting healthcare

September 10, 2018

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A SURPRISE visit by the Sindh health minister to Jacobabad Civil Hospital left not only the facility’s medical staff but the minister herself in shock. The minister expressed dismay at the absence of staff members and the subpar hygiene conditions she witnessed. These revelations would not, however, come as a shock for Pakistan’s poor and sick, who are dependent on government-run hospitals to provide them with quality healthcare. That same day, in Thar, an outbreak of viral infections, water-borne diseases and malnutrition claimed the lives of at least four more children in Civil Hospital, Mithi. Parents bemoaned the shortage of medicines and other facilities in the hospitals they went to. They said the civil hospitals had stopped providing free ambulance service to and from their villages.

But it’s not just Sindh. Healthcare seems to be a national afterthought. Pakistan ranks 154 among 195 countries in both quality and accessibility of healthcare, lagging behind Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka. While the previous government claimed to introduce large-scale reforms and ‘mega-schemes’ in the health sector, and the current government has also listed healthcare as one of its top priorities, the ground realities often speak otherwise. Recently, in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, costly medical equipment was seen stored outside, while its cardiac surgery unit failed to meet its second deadline of completion. In Peshawar, which has recently witnessed a measles outbreak, doctors complain of the shortage of medical facilities, staff and beds at Lady Reading Hospital. Health and education are two of the main indicators against which human capital is measured. Although resources often go to tertiary healthcare facilities, more emphasis should be paid to primary healthcare, preventable diseases and maternal and infant mortality. These provide the foundation of any country’s healthcare system. Change takes times. After years of neglect, it would not be realistic to expect miracles overnight. But the longer we take to implement reform, the more lives will be lost to neglect.

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2018