KARACHI: Eight vertical health programmes, including the maternal, neonatal and child health and lady health workers programmes, have been integrated and transferred from the development side to the non-development side, a government notification issued here on Thursday stated.

The other programmes, which have been integrated into the Healthcare Delivery Model at primary, secondary and tertiary care levels, are TB Control Programme, HIV/AIDS Control Programme, Malaria Control Programme, Prevention and Control of Hepatitis in Sindh, Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Programme, Prevention and Control Programme for Dengue and Prevention and Control of Blindness.

“It’s a good step as it would strengthen the primary healthcare system. But, the problem lies with its implementation,” said Dr Abdul Ghafoor Shoro, general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association-Karachi, adding that other provinces had also taken similar steps but failed to bring about a significant change in the health system.

He was also of the opinion that the provincial health system would not improve unless the government eradicated corruption, started making appointments on merit and ensured proper utilisation of funds.

Seconding his opinion, Dr Mirza Ali Azhar, president of the PMA-Sindh, also described the notification as a positive development and said now these programmes, earlier getting significant funding from foreign donors, would become the Sindh government’s responsibility.

‘It’s a good step as it would strengthen the primary healthcare system’

“Now, these programmes have become part of the budget and the primary healthcare system, which is a positive sign. Concerns of health professionals, however, pertain to the consistent poor performance of the government in the health sector that leaves us with little hope.”

The public health system, he said, was plagued with a host of administrative issues. “The government needs to bring transparency, efficiency and accountability in its affairs.”

Recently, the Pakistan Lady Health Workers Association had held a protest demonstration against the government decision to integrate the lady health workers’ programme.

The government, it said, could not make structural changes in the programme as it’s a violation of the 2013 Supreme Court order which stated that the basic design of the programme could not be changed and the then federal government run by the PPP had agreed to that.

The association had warned that it would fight against this “controversial” step at every forum and seek legal recourse if the government did not withdraw its decision within a week.

The association had also demanded that the service structure should be awarded to lady health workers according to their length of service as was the case with other government departments.

It also criticised the role of district health officers and demanded that the government restore the old mechanism under which expenditure bills were paid through government accounts directly.

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2020