Spurious drugs and unhygienic food items are being sold in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) without any hindrance, putting lives of local people at risk, health experts say.
Many people fall ill because of consumption of these adulterated food items from down country which are flooding the local markets, while health officials look the other way.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Baltistan Doctors Forum (BDF) Chairman Dr Sharif Astori said that in a recent camp set up in Gilgit by Polyclinic Hospital Islamabad, a large number of people were found to be in poor health.
Adults suffered from high blood pressure, prostate gland diseases and thyroid and gynaecological disorders, while waterborne diseases and intestinal parasites were common among children.
“The people are getting sick because of what they are consuming,” said Dr Astore, adding that the substandard drugs and packed food items that have flooded markets in G-B are playing a significant role in this regard.
He said that substandard packed food items such as spices, biscuits, powdered milk and cooking oil as well as drugs manufactured illegally in Swat and Peshawar, or those allegedly manufactured in China and Indian and smuggled through Afghanistan, are being sold openly in G-B’s markets. He claimed the drugs as well as the packed food items are of substandard quality and pose a serious health risk to consumers.
“These items directly affect kidneys, liver, stomach and heart of the consumer,” said Astori, adding that people can develop fatal diseases by consuming these drugs and food items. He said that it is the government’s duty to keep check on the quality of drugs and food items and urged the health department to remove all spurious drugs and food items from markets.
Moreover, the BDF chairman said there is severe shortage of medical staff in G-B, adding that there are only 200 doctors to cater to a population of 2.5 million. He said that there are very few female doctors for women patients.
“There is a shortage of health professionals because they are reluctant to go to G-B,” Dr Astori reasoned.
He said that the government does not provide them salaries on time and they are not even given any incentives for working away from home. Majority of the lower staff do not even get salaries and find it difficult to continue their profession, he added.
Dr Astori maintained that Rs257 million allocated for G-B’s health sector is “insufficient”. He said there are no medical facilities available for cancer patients in G-B and they are forced to travel to Islamabad or Rawalpindi for treatment, which many of them cannot afford. Hospitals also lack basic medical equipment such as CT scan and MRI machines, he said. He added that due to lack of health professionals in remote areas, the locals resort to home remedies for severe illnesses and many die as a result.
Shifa International Hospital (SIH)’s Urologist Dr Ijaz Hussian said that despite lack of health facilities, the government has still slashed the health budget by up to Rs16 million. With only on one secondary care hospital in G-B, that reduction in the health budget has made it impossible for hospitals to facilitate every patient, he said.
He said that around 18,000 patients visit hospitals in G-B annually of which around 16,000 get admitted.
Dr Hussain added that unhealthy lifestyles and lack of awareness about nutrition contributes to the deteriorating health of people in G-B.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.