The Metro Bus project in Multan was inaugurated by PM Nawaz Sharif amidst much fanfare on January 24. The project, which was completed at a cost of Rs28 billion, is a positive step towards modernising the woeful and sometimes nonexistent public transport sector in Pakistan’s metropolitan cities. It is a ubiquitously acknowledged fact that the development of modern public transport systems plays a major role in accelerating trade activities and growth, and for that the government deserves a tip of the hat for having the vision to develop basic infrastructure that has been long overdue. However, the launch of this and multiple other projects against the backdrop of a woman dying unattended on the floor of Jinnah Hospital in Lahore less than a month ago raises the question of why these projects are receiving funding of billions of rupees when basic health infrastructure in Punjab, and for that matter the rest of Pakistan, is visibly in a shambles. What does the common man need first: an air-conditioned bus ride around the streets of Multan and Lahore or access to adequate healthcare?
If we take a look at just Lahore, the largest metropolitan city of Punjab, even healthcare projects which were announced remain uncompleted. These include the Surgical Tower at Mayo Hospital, Fatima Jinnah Dental College and extension of the Services Hospital among others. The healthcare facilities in the rural areas of the country paint an even bleaker picture, devoid of even the most basic of facilities, cleanliness, medicines and sometimes even doctors. There is a need for cost-benefit analysis of healthcare infrastructure versus transport infrastructure that needs to be done with the help of the private sector so that it can be determined which projects need to prioritised. Using the estimated cost of the 500-bed tertiary care hospital under construction in Gujranwala, worth Rs3.9 billion, one could argue that seven such hospitals could have been built against the cost of the Metro Bus project in Multan. Do we prioritise the convenience for 95,000 commuters daily or effective healthcare for thousands every day? The question remains.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2017.