Healthcare nightmare

May 13, 2019

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CONSIDERING the growing healthcare crisis in the country, it is necessary to frequently raise the alarm. The horrifying tally of HIV-positive cases in Sindh, and now in Balochistan, and the increasing number of polio victims, just when there was some hope that the poliovirus was close to being eliminated, reflect the health authorities’ inability to take charge of the situation. Dengue is a real danger, and while the public-sector doctors (when they are not fighting the government for an increase in perks) are capable of an improved response to this mosquito-borne affliction, the threat is present for a good part of the year. To exacerbate matters, Pakistanis appear to be developing resistance to conventional treatment for a number of illnesses. Typhoid is one such illness; first reported in Hyderabad, extensively drug-resistant typhoid has affected thousands of people. The prevailing gloom in the health sector is all the more difficult to lift when the overall picture in the country is dismal. There is huge pressure on resources that keeps budget allocations low, and prices of medication high, leading to demands for greater action and efficiency by the health authorities at the centre and in the provinces.

The government understands the importance of doing — and being perceived as doing — something worthwhile in the healthcare sector, such as launching health cards to alleviate the suffering of those who would otherwise not have been able to afford treatment. Unfortunately, the intended and actual benefits of the ambitious scheme have been overtaken by stories of gross inefficiencies and medical malpractice at many public and private healthcare concerns. The gap between service and need is far too big. The government has reacted by showing the federal health minister the door in last month’s cabinet reshuffle — apparently for his failure to bring down the price of medicine, and to reassure the people that it is fully in command. But if the move created hope, it hasn’t helped that the minister’s replacement from the NGO sector, drafted in as an adviser to the prime minister, has been unable to project himself as someone who recognises the need to act immediately. Meanwhile, there is much noise and confusion in the healthcare sector with new systems being proposed and new rules being formed for medical practitioners. Given our tendency to be hit by all kinds of illnesses, a national health plan, devised with the input of all provinces, must be quickly put in place.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2019