EXPERTS have suggested that more than 40 people die of heart disease every hour in Pakistan. Until three years ago, the number of such deaths was around 12 per hour. This is an alarming increase of more than 200pc in the heart-related mortality rate. The data speaks volumes for the inability of the public healthcare system to cater to a rapidly growing population; secondly, it shows that there is something inherently wrong with the lifestyles of a majority of Pakistanis. Government spending on healthcare in Pakistan has remained less than 1pc of the GDP over several decades. While the present government came to power promising to make healthcare one of its top priorities and also announced a couple of health programmes, the budgetary allocations tell a different story. The federal health budget was slashed this year, along with the provincial budgets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Balochistan. Fortunately, in Sindh the health budget was increased by 19pc, underscoring the provincial government’s plan to improve the provision of healthcare. In this regard, the opening of a chest pain unit by the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in the low-income neighbourhood of Orangi in Karachi is a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, unchecked ‘development’ over the years has led to a decline in the overall quality of life as air pollution has increased and public spaces have been reduced, especially in the bigger cities. Karachi, which has been declared the fifth least liveable city in the world, is a case in point. It is no surprise that sedentary lifestyles and poor diet, combined with bad air quality, have resulted in every third person suffering from hypertension — a precursor to heart disease. If heart patients get medical assistance in time, a large number of these deaths could be prevented. However, this requires that people have easy access to basic but effective healthcare, something that is impossible to achieve until the government makes considerable investment in the development of health facilities and medical staff.
Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2019