A recent incident at a local hospital, which resulted in the death of a prominent politician, is a sad reminder of the falling standards of our healthcare system. A minor surgery was purportedly botched by doctors, resulting in the patient slipping into a comatose state and finally losing her life. Whether the cause was negligence or an honest accident, we may never know: even though the government has formed a joint investigation team to probe the case.
We live in a country where less than 2% of the GDP is spent on healthcare, the majority of taxpayers do not enjoy health insurance, and no law regulates the practitioners of medicine. Care for the sick is a highly critical issue, yet it is ignored in Pakistan.
How we treat incidents of reported malpractice or negligence will determine the future of healthcare in this country. If a sick person cannot be sure that he or she is in safe hands in a hospital, they might as well abandon themselves to fate.
Healthcare experts should be in the business of saving lives, not playing with them. To this end, legislation which regulates their practice is a necessary first step in healthcare regulation. For example, a simple law would require that a surgeon who is old or infirm must never be allowed to undertake the delicate task of operating on a human being. Another one could seek to protect doctors and surgeons against possible threats, legal or otherwise, if it can be demonstrated that they do their job properly.
Secondly, the continuity of our healthcare system depends on the ample provision of clean and tested over-the-counter drugs. The local consumer has recently been forced to refuse taking locally-produced drugs due to fears of dangerous and untested medicines, quality control failures within the industry, and corruption in those involved in their dispensation to patients.
More and more Pakistanis refuse to take locally-manufactured medicines and opt instead for imported ones. As international prices rise, quality healthcare will only be available to those rich enough to afford it. This is highly condemnable, as the right to a healthy life is a very basic human right and should be available to all.
The 1976 Drug Act has been put on the back-burner for too long. The manufacturing, quality assurance and safety of consumers must be subjected to the law. Pharma companies should have their licences cancelled for good if they are found to be supplying medicines below required quality standards.
The lack of proper medical facilities, laboratories, equipment and medical gadgets must be remedied through implementation of strict laws that set certain minimum standards. The government’s first priority should be the promotion of the country’s welfare. This must be done before the administration loses all its credibility in the eyes of foreign donors, and the latter cease providing the funding for the various health programmes currently in operation in the country.
Sadly, even now most of the responsibility of keeping Pakistanis healthy is shouldered by international agencies. The government would do well to own up to its commitments and share that burden equally, if not in greater part. A healthy nation means a healthy workforce and, therefore, a healthy economy.
THE WRITER IS A BANKER, FREELANCE WRITER ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, AND BROADCASTER FOR RADIO 1 FM 91
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2012.