A staggering 54% of the most serious crises and shocks Pakistan has suffered in the last three years have been health-related, while only 3% have been law and order related.
This came up in a meeting on Tuesday organised by John Snow, Inc. (JSI), a public health research and consulting firm that has worked in Pakistan for over two decades to improve the quality of and access to health care systems. More than 20 hosts of morning shows and current affairs programmes sat alongside journalists on Tuesday to discuss the relationship between public health and the media.
The focus of the meet was to discuss why public health is not on the Pakistani media’s radar despite its importance. Annually, around 22,000 women die because of entirely preventable causes linked with maternal mortality and 423,000 children under the age of five die, with 100,000 deaths attributed to pneumonia alone. The dialogue led by Dr Ali and Dr Moeed Pirzada focused on ways the media can foster debate and raise awareness about issues of public health. An anchor-person of a regional language television channel admitted that in his four years on the job, he has only hosted two programmes related to health.
“Pakistan has 60,000 villages, roughly, and only 6,000 skilled birth attendants. Do the maternal mortality rates surprise us, then?” asked Dr Nabeela Ali, chief of Party of JSI’s Technical Assistance Unit for Health (TAUH).
The participants discussed that in the relentless war of ratings, television channels and newspapers are unwilling to devote adequate space to public health. When juxtaposed with stories of celebrities going across the border or political heirs caught in scandals, the story of a woman dying in childbirth is simply not snazzy enough.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 28th, 2012.