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Friday May 24, 2024

Arif Alvi for making mental health toolkit available in every house

By Yousuf Katpar
May 03, 2024
Former president of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi seen in this image. — APP/File
Former president of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi seen in this image. — APP/File

In the lush green lawns of their bungalow, former president Dr Arif Alvi and first lady Samina Alvi distributed certificates of appreciation on Thursday to health professionals and members of various organisations for their support in work for women empowerment, breast cancer, mental health and differently-abled persons.

Addressing the participants, Samina Alvi expressed her happiness at the accomplishments her team achieved across the country after she assumed the role of first lady. She said breast cancer was considered a stigma in Pakistan. “We were told that we cannot mention the word ‘breast’ on TV. I asked, ‘Why not? It’s a type of disease. Why should we think about it wrongly’,” she recalled.

The former first lady said women empowerment was very important, and women should strive for it, but they could only achieve it if they were healthy. She said there was a death rate of 45-48 per cent across Pakistan due to late diagnosis of breast cancer. “We cannot eradicate the disease because it existed the world over, but there, the recovery rate is 98-99 per cent due to early diagnosis,” she pointed out.

She highlighted that her team held awareness sessions on breast cancer across the country. The former first lady said they also worked for differently-abled persons, lamenting that the country’s buildings were not friendly for such people as there were no ramps, and schools did not accommodate children with disabilities. “We made buildings and parks in Islamabad accessible for people with disabilities. Now our aim is inclusive education, and employment opportunities for them,” she mentioned.

She recounted that she met a breast cancer survivor in Islamabad, who said that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the second thing she thought about was which psychiatrist or psychologist to visit to learn how to handle herself and her family. Mental health issues were a big problem. In our country, we only have 500-600 trained psychiatrists, she said.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Arif Alvi said that he drew inspiration for all this work from Islamic teachings, which prohibited isolating people with disabilities and mental health issues. He said thousands of awareness events are held even in small villages in October, drawing inspiration from the first lady, who spearheaded the efforts against the disease.

In October last year, the ex-president said, over 135 million people listened to call waiting messages, meaning that the message reached tremendous women for early diagnosis to save their lives.

Touching on mental health issues, Alvi said that as per a survey, 24 per cent of the country’s population was under stress and 60 to 80 per cent of college-going students were under stress. However, he lamented that with only 500-600 psychiatrists and 1200-1300 psychologists available, it’s difficult to address this issue.

He said that a helpline on the issue has been operationalised in Gilgit and will be spread across Pakistan so more people get guidance on the issue. “This is the situation in every household. I hardly know a household that has not faced such an issue. There were estimates in the US suggesting that every person goes through some form of mental health issue at some point in their life,” he said.

Alvi stressed the need for making available a mental health toolkit in every house. About women empowerment, the former president said that until 1904, women couldn’t own property in Britain. “I realised that in the West, many changes were brought about more by needs than humanitarianism. After the industrial revolution, there arose need for workers, and what better solution than to encourage women to enter the workforce and contribute. That’s how women empowerment began,” he highlighted.

He hoped that with economic progress, the condition of women empowerment in Pakistan would also improve. He emphasised that the spirit of Islam was human service, urging the participants to work for this nation as they would for their children.