If you were to pick up a newspaper these days, or more likely, turn on the television, you would think that the only issue facing the nation is the political impasse. While there is little doubt that there is a lot of hoopla around the marches and the ever-surprising musical chairs of political alliances, somehow, we have confined ourselves in the bubble that does not include our core problems of development. Actors and non-actors at the political stage, those who have parliamentary representation and those who fail in every single elections, are all basking in the glory of self-importance. In this radiance of political spotlight, one can easily believe that somehow, we have resolved our most pressing challenges and somehow we have achieved all those national targets that were promised before the elections, and the only thing left to discuss, both for those on the treasury benches, and those in opposition, is the length, duration and impact of the march.
Well, here is some news. Our assumption about all problems gone is not quite true. Far from it. Our national priorities may have changed, but the national realities have not. The irony is that these challenges affect all groups, not just a single province or a single city. These are national, regional and municipal problems and affect citizens across the country. The less discussed problems in health are particularly substantial and are only getting worse. We are not any closer to addressing the polio challenge. As a matter of fact, given the situation with regard to internally displaced persons, our challenges in polio and other matters of health are have only grown substantially. The national health indicators, whether in maternal or child health, or the re-emergence of diseases long gone from homeland, do not paint a rosy picture of our health systems. Just as the opposition and those on a perpetual adrenaline rush with the latest march or dharna of the month, the government is equally complacent and lacking any vision to address health disparity across the gender, social, economic or urban and rural divide.
Our health challenges may not have the immediate appeal of sensational mud-slinging, neither do they provide fodder for drawing room political battles, but they are a substantial burden on our limited resources. It only gets worse every year. So, in this climate of intolerance and impatience, what can be done? I would start with three simple things. First, is the awareness. We may not be the Ebola epicentre, but we have lost way more people to preventable diseases than Ebola this year. I doubt if most of our citizens know about this, and while not everyone may care, some may, and those who do are the only ones who matter, and given time, they may get others to care. Second, in a society that is becoming increasingly politically active through social media, the opportunity is there to create momentum around our development goals in health. We tweet and re-tweet inane things — how about saying a thing or two about our health problems? How about insisting on transparency and urgency in our actions in combatting disease? Third, and perhaps, most important is creating of incentives and celebrating those who do give their all to reduce health disparities in our society. We all love good stories and there are some amazing human beings, still alive and well, in our society, who give it their all to improve health equity.
At the end of the day, our willingness to improve and hopefully save the lives of others, through partnerships and actions across our political differences, is a far better litmus test of our patriotism than shouting one more slogan louder than thy neighbour.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2014.
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