A LARGE part of what troubles the healthcare sector in Pakistan is the lack of consistency. One reminder of this was the shelving of the Prevention of Thalassaemia Major project in KP. Launched in 2005, it was a signal initiative to address a vital health issue through raising awareness about the not uncommon genetic haemoglobin disorder. Unfortunately, the initiative was put to an end by the provincial health department in 2012, bringing to a halt what success had been in sight. Now, as per a report in this newspaper on Friday, cases of the blood disease are increasing. In Peshawar’s Lady Reading hospital alone, reportedly, more than 8,000 pints of blood have been transfused this year to children with thalassaemia, while other hospitals and healthcare facilities in the province are facing a similar situation. According to the Pakistan Paediatrics Association, some 8pc of the province’s population suffers from thalassaemia minor, while there are 30,000 thalassaemia major patients. It is evident that for the families of the patients, the challenge of arranging blood donations is huge, to say nothing of the trauma experienced by the sufferers themselves.
While the project was ongoing, some 5,000 people were screened for the illness and plans were under way to extend the facility to the entire vulnerable population. The KP government had announced that the initiative would become one of the regular programmes of its health department, but with its abrupt curtailment, the numbers of sufferers is climbing high. The healthcare intervention is sorely in need of revival, and the administration’s moribund policies of redress. But even more urgently needed is a large-scale awareness campaign — not just in KP but across the country — about the causes and risks of thalassaemia. In a country such as Pakistan, where marriage between relatives is not just accepted but welcomed, the vulnerability to genetic disorders is compounded. Pakistan would do well to study the preventative strategies employed successfully by other countries to contain the scourge of thalassaemia.
Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018