A new medical drive has run into the same old problems. Around a dozen children at a primary school in Shangla, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, fell sick — one even fainted — after they were administered deworming medicine. The medicine was administered as part of a province-wide drive against intestinal worms that pose a serious threat to children’s health, education, and productivity. The medicine was supposed to have been tested and safe, but an apparent overdose of the medicine while being administered led to the adverse reaction. The episode recalled memories of children being rushed to hospitals earlier in the year during an anti-polio campaign and sparked rumours of hazardous medicine. Doctors and health authorities later clarified that the children had fallen sick due to heatstroke and dehydration.
Pakistan suffers from grave health issues, predominantly malnutrition and stunting while the health apparatus of the country too seems to be buckling under the crushing weight of a large population. True, reforms in the health sector are urgently needed and multiple governments have worked to introduce them to varying degrees. But even as the country remains enveloped in a dengue epidemic, the answer to Pakistan’s health problems may lie elsewhere. General cleanliness in our country and the access to safe and affordable drinking water for all remains a distant dream. Yet, if these two issues are resolved, they can help tackle most of our health concerns. Dengue is epidemic today because rainwater can collect, allowing dengue-carrying mosquitos to breed. We are too reticent to clean out these deadly pools of water.
Even though many are keen to parrot the phrase that cleanliness is half the religion, few practise cleanliness in their daily lives beyond themselves or their homes. Our streets are filthy. We prefer to chuck garbage out of our window rather than properly dispose of it at the dump. Along with health reforms, perhaps if we work to make our environment cleaner, perhaps then we may have a greater chance at fostering a healthier, more productive society.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2019.
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