An increasing number of people residing in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) have been forced to self-medicate for treatment of diseases due to financial constraints, while medical experts have warned of serious health problems due to the practice.
It has been observed that the majority of the people belonging to poor communities even avoid visiting public hospitals, as they cannot afford the doctors’ fees and medicines.
Even the middle class often relies on self-medication to cure throat infections, influenza, cough, headache, fever and low blood pressure.
In some cases, people even consume antibiotic medicines based on old prescriptions, which increases the risk of developing other harmful diseases.
“The main reason behind self-medication is the lack of ability of patients to pay hefty fees for diagnostic tests charged by doctors and laboratories,” said Muhammad Shareef, who works at a local shop in the interior city of Peshawar.
He explained he was suffering from chronic back problems himself, but was only relying on pain killers to control the ailment.
“I cannot afford to pay the doctors’ fees and medicine charges as I only make Rs6,000 to Rs7,000 per month,” he said.
He said he had taken his son to a government hospital, where there was no checkup fee. However, the medicines prescribed by the doctor were really expensive and out of his range.
Azhar, another labourer, said he also had a back problem, due to which his legs also gave him trouble. However, he never visited any doctors and only relied on rest and massage.
“After one year of rest, I was able to stand on my feet, but I never saw a doctor due poverty,” he said.
According to official statistics, 40 per cent of the population of Pakistan lives on the brink of poverty.
Dr Mehfooz, a practicing doctor, admitted that people avoided visiting doctors due to financial constraints. He said such an attitude can have severe consequences on peoples’ health as most minor health problems can become serious concerns if not treated properly.
He also agreed that the price of treatment and medicines was a matter of huge concern for poor people. “When people can’t even afford to have two meals a day, how can they pay for the treatment of their diseases?”
He urged the government to work out a strategic plan with insurance companies to introduce an affordable medical insurance scheme for the poor.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2011.