Pakistan suffers from an alarming pool of stunted children, and an ever-increasing glycaemic index in our diet has caused an phenomenal increase in diabetes. This has been compounded by the disturbingly high antibiotic consumption in Pakistan from 800 million defined daily doses (DDD) to 1.3 billion DDD between 2000 and 2015.
Political parties need to reflect on the real and pressing needs that exist on the ground rather than pursuing partisan and superfluous agendas. They must make an effort to align their manifestoes on the basis of common goals. If they are elected, they should prioritise a detailed plan for the fast-track recovery of abysmal healthcare indicators by focusing on stunting, diabetes and antibiotic resistance.
The path to ensuring good health in this age of high-tech modernity and instant communication are laden with countless opportunities that can be availed for the betterment of our people. Nonetheless, it is important to identify ineffective policies, bad governance and the disastrous fallouts of poor planning due to the abject indifference shown towards the social sector over many decades. The situation on the ground spells a looming disaster for our personal, mental and social wellbeing and does little to make people into quality human resources with able bodies and sound minds.
Among many other challenges within the healthcare sector, Pakistan has witnessed its worst demographic nightmare with respect to stunting, diabetes and antibiotic resistance. The problems triggered by a burgeoning population, high levels of illiteracy, the youth bulge, diminishing natural resources, an inadequate health infrastructure, and frugal spending on education have been compounded by poor governance, misplaced priorities, political uncertainty, volatile borders and a roller-coaster economy.
A series of real internal threats, along with the onslaught on individual health, afflict every one of us. And yet, our politicians nonchalantly carry on with their routines, oblivious to the brewing healthcare crisis that is consuming all of us. No major political party has addressed the subliminal Armageddon that continues to have an insurmountable impact on healthcare and the national economy.
Political parties must remember the stark realities when they set out the premise and tone for their manifestoes, especially when it comes to improving healthcare and making promises to strengthen the quality of life. It is our moral obligation as citizens to follow up on every claim made in these manifestoes.
Setting healthcare goals, defining agendas and preparing roadmaps in such a mercurial environment can be a challenging task. We need to look beyond partisan politics that, at times, appear to be myopic and fail to account for the greater good of society. As we approach the 2018 elections, there will be a flurry of activity surrounding party manifestoes, with politicians outdoing each other in terms of polemics and rhetoric rather than matter of substance. Constant pressure and checks from the civil society can help political parties set goals and remain on track once they are in power.
In order to tackle dismal health indicators, we need to develop sound insights by carefully mapping out issues before the parties devise an action plan. No strategy can be effective if it is constrained by term limits. It has to be a long-term plan that all parties must subscribe to, irrespective of political divides, ideological differences, term limits and changes in the government.
Socially-conscious countries plan healthcare policies and interventions as early as the prenatal period. Children are the focus of their policies. As a result, dividends are reaped generation after generation, with healthy, able-bodied individuals who can contribute socially and professionally to their families, surroundings and countries and add value to their respective economies.
Unfortunately, over 50 percent of children in our country are affected by stunting, which is also known as chronic malnutrition. This is often manifested through lower cognitive test scores and poor achievements at schools. To add insult to injury, the nutritional status of children under the age of five is deplorable. We must not forget that these children will be the human resources of tomorrow. There is no doubt that we have made ourselves vulnerable in many ways and are producing individuals with unhealthy bodies and sub-average intellect.
Rapid unplanned urbanisation has made us opt for seemingly inactive lives that have taken a toll on our dietary intakes in the most disastrous way. According to a national survey, 26 percent of Pakistan’s population suffers from diabetes. It is obvious that there is a need to make changes to the national health policy and launch interventions at the school level to prevent the incidence of such diseases. Due to the growing number of stunted children, an unexpectedly high prevalence of diabetes has been witnessed. This has been exacerbated by a super-urbanised diet, which includes food that contains high carbs and is laced with pesticides, preservatives, antibiotics, hormones, plastics and other substances that are deleterious to health.
The youth bulge can be both a blessing and a daunting nightmare for any country. According to various estimates, people below the age of 30 account for nearly two-thirds of Pakistan’s 207.8 million population, making it one of the youngest countries in the world. Once Pakistan’s stunted children enter their adult years, there is a strong likelihood that they will suffer from diabetes and develop a resistance to most antibiotics. Is this how we foresee our future? Does this situation not call for a national emergency and an all-encompassing health policy that takes various factors into consideration.
A concrete healthy policy will essentially be an investment in the security of Pakistan as it will ensure that our future generations have healthy bodies and sound minds. This may sound outlandish to the mandarins and security officials as it doesn’t fit into their myopic vision and assessment of threats. But the fact remains that most robust economies play a pivotal role in staving off threats. In order to run these economies, you need healthy people with sound minds who can provide the best strategic depth.
The irrational and massive consumption of antibiotics over the years in Pakistan has drastically increased antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics that are designed to fight infections are no longer effective because super bugs have developed resistance over several decades. WHO has termed antibiotic resistance a major global threat and advised against altering the trends of prescribing and consuming antibiotics. It doesn’t take rocket science to come up with solutions to these ailments. All it takes is political will.
A leading academic and physician wrote in an article published in 2017 that: “...there is no better solution than disease awareness, a clean environment, hygienic personal habits, correct diagnosis and prudent drug prescription”. Is this too much to ask for from political parties who represent the people of Pakistan?
The writer is a freelancecontributor.