KARACHI: A positive change in the health system is fundamentally linked to improvement in the basic health units (BHUs). The country faces multiple health emergencies including growing incidences of hepatitis, high mortality rates of newborns and continued prevalence of polio, all created by human failures. The process of devolution would not be completed unless powers are transferred to the local governments.

These points were highlighted by Health Minister Dr Zafar Mirza on Sunday at the concluding day of a conference organised by the Indus Health Network (IHN) at a local hotel.

Titled ICON 2020, the biennial conference was the fifth of the series since 2012 and participated by a large number of national and international experts.

It was preceded by overarching plenary lectures, symposia, workshops, and abstract and poster presentations created by children diagnosed with cancer.

The purpose of the conference was to facilitate communication across researchers, academicians, health professionals, and policymakers to promote education, research, and training in health services and to ensure sustainable capacity.

At a session titled ‘Steps towards universal healthcare coverage which focused on the strategies Pakistan has adapted for achieving the Universal Health Coverage 2030’, the minister spoke in detail about the health challenges Pakistan faced and described them as man-made crises.

“Growing number of hepatitis C patients, high newborn mortality rate, continued prevalence of polio and increasing population are all national emergencies, which require collaborative efforts,” he said.

In this respect, he also referred to last year’s HIV outbreak in Larkana and said the factors which led to the HIV outbreak were not restricted to Sindh and present across the country.

One major reason for the spread of infectious diseases, he pointed out, was the unnecessary use of injections, which was needed to be discouraged.

“The HIV outbreak occurred due to repeated use of (infected) injections. It has been observed that the use of injection in 95 per cent cases is unnecessary,” he said.

On the universal health coverage, he said that everyone had to work jointly to achieve this target. The health system of the country currently operated at five levels; lady health workers, basic health units at the community level followed by primary, secondary and tertiary care hospitals at the upper level.

“Seventy per cent of universal health coverage could be achieved at the community and basic health units,” he said, adding one should not expect improvement in the health system unless basic health units started delivering services.

He also informed the audience about the steps the federal government had taken and said the Sehat Insaf Card had so far been provided to 6.5 million people whereas the target was to give this card to 15m people. “The government is also providing health insurance to special people and transgenders.”

The minister appreciated services of the Indus Hospital and said it was not a hospital, but an institution setting an example for other organisations.

Over the course of this two-day conference, participants had the opportunity to hear, discuss, and highlight multiple topics; researchers discussed their findings; policy-makers shared their vision; and healthcare experts suggested ways to interact with communities and to connect with stakeholders in private and public sectors.

In her speech on the first day, Dr Mwelecele Ntuli Malecela, director of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the WHO, talked about the importance of collective approach and said integrated approaches enabled successful delivery of high-quality healthcare to all, particularly the poorest and those in the direst need.

“Effective collaboration between stakeholders with different missions, interests, cultures, and even vocabularies is difficult to achieve.

“It requires common understanding as well as collective leadership, a collaborative mindset, and a key partnering skill set. With these critical elements in place, partnerships can achieve real impact.”

In his address, Dr Abdul Bari Khan, CEO of the Indus Hospital, said ICON had been serving as the forum to engage healthcare professionals from different fields and geographical areas and aimed at disseminating research-based recommendations.

Dr Shamvil Ashraf briefed about IHN’s initiatives and said that in order to reach out to more people, to benefit more patients and to build the capacity of public hospitals’ personnel, the IHN decided to enter into a partnership with the government.

“It also helped us in replicating our model of healthcare which is free treatment for all,” he said.

ICON 2020 was aligned with government’s commitment towards UN’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 3 of good health and well-being for all. The conference highlighted initiatives taken by the Indus Hospital to address healthcare challenges in Pakistan by bringing together disparate and like-minded institutions and individuals.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2020

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