Unlike most countries, Pakistan has never prioritised or invested altruistically in the health sector. A country’s health indicators have a significant impact on both human and economic development, and regrettably, ours are amongst the lowest par in the region. It ought to be asked: what has held Pakistan back? What is it that others were able to do that we could not? According to an independent analysis, all our neighboring countries, excluding Afghanistan, have successfully reduced their population growth rates. On average, women in Pakistan have more children than in the rest of the region. Family planning is an obscure concept in Pakistan, one which has been thoroughly neglected. It is important to recognise the need for family planning as the brisk growth in population poses a serious threat to not just public health but a myriad of other things.
In the last few years, Pakistan has gone from being an independent food producer to a consumer of food imports. Growth in population has burdened the agricultural production with an excessive demand. A third of households face food insecurity, and women and children are at the forefront of this. One out of three children under the age of five is underweight and two out of five women of reproductive age are anemic.
In addition, cities have witnessed rapid expansion over time. Increased population has overcrowded cities and put a strain on several resources. Among the top 20 most polluted cities in the world, two are in Pakistan. Pakistan is identified as having poor air quality, which is a major cause of respiratory diseases. Per capita availability of water is also declining, and more than half of the households drink contaminated water. The poor quality of water and lack of basic sanitation contribute to health problems such as hepatitis A and E, cholera, typhoid, etc.
An overhaul of our underperforming healthcare sector will not only serve the citizens of the country better, but it will also contribute to the national economy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2021.