Sunday July 14, 2024

Health indicators improved during democratic regimes

Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which is an initiative of the democratic government

By M Waqar Bhatti
April 29, 2024
A billboard can be seen with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) written on it. — APP/File
A billboard can be seen with the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) written on it. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Despite high maternal and child mortality, health indicators improved in Pakistan during democratic governments.

The improvement was all due to better governance, accountability and comparatively less corruption. Significant improvement in immunisation of children was observed after devolution, a leading Pakistani health scientist claimed on Sunday.

“Although maternal and child mortality remained very high in Pakistan but health indicators improved during the democratic regimes. Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), which was an initiative of democratic government, significantly reduced stunting and malnutrition among children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Northern Punjab and some other areas”, said Prof Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, in his keynote address at a health research conference. 

Prof Bhutta maintained Lady Health Worker (LHW) programme was launched by a democratic government in 1994, while another government launched Sehat Sahulat Programme. 

All this helped save hundreds of thousands of lives and easing sufferings of millions of people who could not afford expense of medical treatment, he observed. The conference was organised by Health Research Advisory Board (HealthRAB) at Health Services Academy (HSA) Islamabad. 

The conference was addressed by healthcare professionals, vice chancellors of medical universities, policymakers, researchers, pharmaceutical industry leaders and medical students across from Pakistan.

Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta was awarded “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his contribution in the field of medical science, while National Health Research Awards were presented to former Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza and Vice Chancellor of Rawalpindi Medical University Prof Muhammad Umer.

On the occasion, Basic Health Sciences Awards were given to Muhammad Arshad, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sehat Sahulat Programme and Khalid Mehmood, Managing Director of Getz Pharma for their contributions in the field of health and promoting health research in the country.

Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta spoke about stunting among children, wasted mothers, rampant poverty, poor exclusive breastfeeding rates, high child and neonatal mortality, gender inequality leading to low immunisation rates.

Prof Bhutta said he led an initiative in 12 worst performing districts in Pakistan, including conflict-hit areas where most of health indicators improved. It was made possible by working with the government institutions. 

“We also need to reduce and end donor dependence, especially in the area of health. Although we lack resources, but a lot can be done by utilising available resources with better management and governance”, he noted. 

The Managing Director of Getz Pharma Khalid Mehmood in his address said they are the sole/exclusive partner of HealthRAB and spent a grant of over Rs100 million. He said when he returned to Pakistan in 1995, there were numerous emergent cases of Hepatitis C with no formal demographic studies to determine the prevalence of disease. 

“In early 2000, Getz Pharma invested $2 million and screened out 22,000 disease naive individuals, making it first of its kind prevalence study carried out by private sector investment", he said.

“Over the decade we have invested significant financial amount and human resources on funding community research, academic ventures and clinical trials on diabetes, hypertension and respiratory diseases. We invested $2 million on Covid-19 research”, he claimed. 

Deploring that Pakistan is “sick man” of the world, Khalid Mehmood called for changing economic policies, priorities, and learning from the countries which were very sick 30 years ago, but are now very healthy.

Chairman of HealthRAB Prof Abdul Ghaffar Billoo emphasised the importance of research on local health issues. Former SAPM Health Dr Zafar Mirza called for initiating solution-based research.

Vice Chancellor HSA Prof Shahzad Ali Khan urged the government to provide enabling environment for research. He called for forging alliances between institutions to come up with meaningful research. 

The conference was also addressed by Director General Health Dr Ahmed Kazi, Prof Dr Abdul Basit, Vice Chancellor Khyber Medical University, Prof Zia-ul-Haq, Prof Muhammad Umer, Dr Zakiuddin Ahmed, Muhammad Arshad, Prof Dr Iqbal Afridi, Dr Khawar Kazmi and Prof Rizwan Taj.