Health for all

Published June 20, 2023

THOUGH the situation may have improved since the time of independence, Pakistan’s health indicators are hardly satisfactory. Far too many Pakistanis die preventable, early deaths, while debilitating diseases affect the quality of life and productivity of millions. This is mostly because despite the power wielders’ stated commitments to improve the lot of the masses, human development is not a priority for our elite. When members of the elite fall sick, they can opt for the best healthcare money can buy at private medical facilities in the country, or better still, fly off to foreign locales where they are healed in well-equipped hospitals, staffed by competent medical professionals. For the middle and working classes in this country, the choices are far fewer. Should the common man get sick, he can either pay through the nose and be admitted to a private hospital, or opt for suboptimal public health facilities, or die a slow, painful death. To ameliorate this dismal state of affairs, the HRCP has rightly called for making health a fundamental part of the Constitution. This call needs to be heeded by local authorities as well as those in parliament.

Though many of the rights enshrined in the Constitution are denied to the people, incorporating health in the nation’s basic law will at least correct the direction. As the WHO states, health is “a fundamental right of every human being”, one that is unfortunately denied to millions of Pakistanis. Our high rates of neonatal mortality and child stunting, high burden of hepatitis C and tuberculosis, as well as the fact that this country is amongst the two remaining states in the world where polio has not been eradicated, point to only a few of our considerable health challenges. However, all these problems can be tackled, should the state prioritise people’s health. Acknowledging health as a fundamental constitutional right, as was done with education in the 18th Amendment, is the first step. This needs to be followed up by strengthening primary healthcare across the nation, specifically in the less-developed parts of rural Sindh and Balochistan, where healthcare is available only in rudimentary form.

If all goes as planned a general election will be held in a few months. Therefore, as pointed out by experts, political parties should commit to making health a fundamental right in their manifestos. Moreover, a multisector approach is needed; better healthcare facilities and professionals will only make a difference when people have cleaner air to breathe and pure water to drink. Affordable healthcare at public facilities (and free for those who cannot pay) is an achievable goal should the elite set their minds to it. A secure and progressive Pakistan can only emerge when its people are healthy, educated and prosperous.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2023

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