Why such poor coverage of health?

Published: May 25, 2012

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant and tweets @tazeen

A country where 58 per cent of the population is food insecure and over 43 per cent of children are malnourished, health should be a primary concern all the time. Add the repeated misery of the floods of 2010 and 2011, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people because of military operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata and it becomes an even more pressing concern. When a matter is that critical, you expect to see it highlighted everywhere. Unfortunately, the Pakistani media is, by and large, silent on this issue.

Let’s start with health issues regarding children. Neonatal mortality is responsible for 57 per cent of all deaths among children younger than five years of age in Pakistan. Furthermore, we also have the dubious distinction of having the highest neonatal mortality rate in the region. According to UN figures, around 432,000 children die before reaching the age of five in Pakistan and the majority of these lives are taken by pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles, malaria, tuberculosis and tetanus. But if you go through any newspaper in Pakistan or watch any news bulletin on any of the TV channels, you would think that the only disease killing children in Pakistan is polio.

Pick any newspaper, almost 90 per cent of the news items about children’s health relate to the government’s polio vaccination drive, its success, failures and the political mileage politicians get out of it. Much of this coverage is based around self-serving publicity-seeking statements by political personalities, especially those who are part of the government and the ruling party such as Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Farzana Raja and Shehnaz Wazir Ali. Ironically, when it comes to fighting polio, Pakistan is doing badly and is currently experiencing a resurgence of the dreaded disease (it is one of three countries where the disease is endemic — the other two being Nigeria and Afghanistan). Pakistan has not done much to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing childhood mortality by 2015 and control of infectious diseases, which should have been the top-most priority but remains neglected.

The higher occurrence of communicable diseases among children and acute malnutrition in the country is primarily due to poverty, high illiteracy rate among mothers and the government’s lack of commitment towards ensuring food security to each and every citizen. Other factors include inherent problems in infant feeding practices and lack of access to the ‘right’ kind of foods, a problem that can be addressed if the media makes it a priority. Unfortunately, even when the health sector is covered, the issues are usually political in nature, such as the recent strike by doctors in Punjab.

As far as health issues of adults are concerned, one sees stories only about cases of criminal negligence, medical malpractice, lack of infrastructure, absentee doctors and protests and strikes by medical and paramedical staff. There is hardly any coverage given to issues relating to nutrition, health policy, legislation and drug pricing policies, etc.

With the devolution of the ministry of health following the Eighteenth Amendment, Pakistan faces the challenge of developing a reliable provincial infrastructure that would integrate the efforts of various stakeholders in promoting better health outcomes. Unfortunately, we are not even at the stage where a workable policy is developed and budgetary priorities are reassessed, so developing a workable provincial infrastructure remains a distant dream.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 26th, 2012.

 

on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook

Reader Comments (6)

  • bozo
    May 26, 2012 - 12:01AM

    are you ever happy with anything?

    As far as health issues of adults are concerned, one sees stories only about cases of criminal negligence, medical malpractice, lack of infrastructure, absentee doctors and protests and strikes by medical and paramedical staff. There is hardly any coverage given to issues relating to nutrition, health policy, legislation and drug pricing policies, etc.

    do you ever read the papers? open up some mainstream urdu papers and see. jang and nawai e waqat have had some ground breaking stories on medical scams, fake drugs and other issues. the weekly mags have great stuff about disease prevention. fine the journalists here are not very knowledgeable and lack investigative skills but they do a good job. about time you get off the net and start doing some real research. arm chair idiots have not done this country any favour.

    Recommend

  • elementary
    May 26, 2012 - 12:14AM

    In our country religion and politics domiantes ,social parametres are not even a consideration.This is true not just of goverments but of people too,sadly.

    Recommend

  • May 26, 2012 - 1:35AM

    Nice article, Tazeen. We just wanted to clarify a couple of things mentioned. Firstly, polio does not kill a child, it causes lifelong paralysis that cannot be treated or cured; and secondly, the success of Pakistan’s Polio Programme can be gauged from the fact that when the polio eradication campaign was launched in 1994, the total number of polio cases were in excess of 24,000. By last year, this number had declined to 197. Moreover, this year, Pakistan has recorded 16 polio cases till date as against 41 cases during the corresponding period last year.
     
    Based on these data and available scientific evidence, Pakistan can be said to be moving in the right direction. It is hoped that the country will soon be standing in the row of proud polio-free nations. 
     
    Kindly also note that Aseefa Bhutto Zardari was the first child in Pakistan to have received polio drops (27th April, 1994), which makes her the best candidate for a polio ambassador. We thank you for highlighting the efforts of the polio communications team that works day and night with the media to make sure parents are kept aware of the potential threat that the crippling poliovirus can pose to their children.
     
    Editorial Team,
    Pakistan Polio Alert
    (Dedicated website for health beat correspondents with an interest in reporting on polio eradication).

    Recommend

  • usmani
    May 26, 2012 - 10:11AM

    Good article Tazeen– At least You through some light on the medicare issue. Whereas most of the mainstream media is focus on Killing –and death.

    Recommend

  • Truthbetold
    May 26, 2012 - 10:43AM

    Good article. Unfortunately, health and social welfare of the society is not a high priority for the Pakistani Deep State.

    Recommend

  • Meekal Ahmed
    May 26, 2012 - 8:08PM

    Madam,

    No one really cares no matter how distressing the truth.

    Recommend

More in Pakistan