Tuesday October 26, 2021

Fixing our health

April 23, 2020

The novel coronavirus is a silent vulture which is slowly spreading its web and engulfing the whole world. This virus’ highly contagious nature has made it a severe threat.

This virus is testing the health systems of all countries in the world including the world’s superpower USA; all these countries are struggling to cope up with the impact of this virus on their respective health systems. The clear message of this virus for global powers is: come out of your ego, spend your resources more towards healthcare and the well-being of people and less into buying and building arms and ammunition.

Like all other countries, Pakistan is also facing the harsh impact of this virus on its economy and healthcare system. In the beginning, Pakistan was fortunate that the spread of the virus was not as massive as expected and in this regard all provincial governments and the federal government should be commended for taking timely decisions for the protection of the people.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is a good time for Pakistan to completely revamp its health infrastructure. Pakistan has seen many natural calamities. These calamities strike quickly, cause damage to life and property and then go away. In those calamities of the past, the government, NGOs and other donor agencies only sprung to action after the disaster and thus were quite reactive rather than being proactive. Unlike these natural calamities, this pandemic is spreading slowly and allowing federal and provincial governments enough time to prepare themselves and avoid a disaster in the making in the form of massive number of patients or high number of deaths.

According to the 18th Amendment, health is a provincial subject but in times of crises, provinces need the support of the federal government in acquiring medical supplies including testing kits, personal protection equipment for medical staff, and ventilators. Once this crisis is over, political parties need to sit together and analyze if keeping health with provinces is beneficial for people or not – and this needs to be given serious thought to.

While reading a report about Pakistan’s health system, I was surprised to know that in a country of more than 200 million people, we only have 174,608 registered doctors while the number of beds in the country’s approximately 7,700 medical facilities are 132,500. A country which recently became the fifth most populous on earth, we in Pakistan have a negligible number of beds in ICU and only have 2,200 ventilators of which half are dysfunctional.

A few years ago, in one of the largest private hospitals of Karachi, my mother in a semi-conscious state had to spend approximately 12 hours in emergency as a bed with a ventilator was not available in the ICU. During the ongoing crisis, the National Disaster Management Authority’s chairman made a commitment to have a total of 10,000 ventilators in Pakistan by the last week of May. This is good news for Pakistan.

Pakistan is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Three of these MDGs are health related and it is a matter of embarrassment that we are way behind the global target set for achieving these goals.

At the moment, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where polio still exists. Presence of the polio virus is another example of the country’s failure in the health sector.

As we are fighting against the novel coronavirus, this is the best time for everyone at the helm of affairs to work cohesively to permanently remove the deficiencies of Pakistan’s health system. Governments should take charge to build new hospitals around the country. If we look around Karachi, the city of 20 million people only has four hospitals in the public sector and all of them were built two decades ago. I am sure that other areas of the country are also facing similar negligence. New medical universities are now established and this has made private universities only a production line for new doctors. These doctors enter the healthcare system not to serve the ailing humanity but with the aim to mint money.

The prime minister of Pakistan launched a massive package for the construction sector. In my view, it would be better if he had incorporated some incentives for hospital construction in his package.

Going forward, Pakistan needs to make sure that all the medical equipment they are acquiring from China and other places should be utilized properly not only during the ongoing crisis but also after the crisis.

In the month of June, all the provincial governments will unveil their annual budgets. Learning from the problems faced during the ongoing crisis, all these provincial governments should divert at least 10 percent of their annual budget to the health sector to lead the foundation of revamping the country’s health system in order to prevent the people from falling into further misery.

The writer is a publicist.

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Twitter: @KhurramZiaKhan