IRIN, LAHORE/DUBAI, 17 MAY 2013 – Hamza Mazhar, a 35-year-old teacher from Lahore, Pakistan’s eastern capital, says he’ll never visit a government hospital again.
“In February of this year, my mother was admitted to the hospital with an upper respiratory tract infection, and physicians stated she needed to be treated in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” he told IRIN.
However, the doctors in charge demanded that the family pay a bribe in order to be admitted to the ICU, which had plenty of open beds. They couldn’t pay since they couldn’t afford it. His mother was unable to receive the care she required, and she died in March
The findings are not entirely negative. Progress has been made on all health indicators in the past 20 years. The rates of child deaths and maternal mortality have fallen, and the community-based Lady Health Workers programme is singled out for praise.
But improvements have been much slower coming than in other similar countries. IRIN picked out four major challenges from the health assessment.
1.Unacceptably high mother and child mortality
Pakistan’s progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals for reducing child and material mortality (4&5) is described as “unsatisfactory” by the authors of the report.
With a population of 180 million people, Pakistan has more infant, foetus, and maternal mortality than all but two countries on the planet.
One of Pakistan’s most corrupt areas has long been health care.
According to Transparency International research, the majority of Pakistanis are dissatisfied with the health care offered to them.
According to the first-ever comprehensive evaluation of the sector, published in the medical magazine The Lancet and announced in Islamabad today, this is only one of several issues plaguing Pakistan’s health system.
Pakistan’s health sector falls behind 12 other nations in the region with similar cultural, economic, and geographic characteristics, according to a series of essays titled Health Transitions in Pakistan.
In Pakistan, there is no government-run health-care system, and 78% of the population is responsible for their own medical bills. It is the world’s only country without a currency.
Child survival is described as “the most severe and large-scale public health and humanitarian catastrophe Pakistan faces,” according to the report.
Every year, an estimated 423,000 children under the age of five die, with over half of them being newborn babies. Every year, about a million women seek unsafe abortions due to a lack of family planning options.
According to the report’s authors, simple steps such as educating additional nurses and midwives (who are now outnumbered by doctors 2:1) might save the lives of more than 200,000 women and children in 2015.
2. Dietary requirements
The high frequency of child and maternal deaths is due to a lack of proper nourishment for youngsters. Nearly 40% of children under the age of five are underweight, and more than half have stunted growth.
The body’s natural defence mechanisms are weakened by poor nutrition.
However, the paper claims that malnutrition has an economic impact on Pakistan, with estimates suggesting it costs the country 3% of GDP each year, owing to lower productivity among young people.
3. “Lifestyle diseases”
In the last two decades, noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart problems have surpassed communicable diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea as the main causes of death and morbidity in Pakistan, as well as throughout South Asia.
The Pakistani health system and government policy have not kept pace with this general trend. Preventable deaths are caused by poor road safety, inexpensive smokes, and high levels of obesity (one in every four persons).
According to the authors of the paper, “lifestyle diseases” might cost the government nearly $300 million by 2025.
They claim that with the correct government action, such as greater cigarette excise prices, new regulations, and public awareness programmes, the premature mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases, malignancies, and respiratory diseases may be decreased by 20% by 2025.
4. Low public spending
Over the last decade, humanitarian catastrophes triggered by earthquakes, flooding, and fighting have generated significant sums of money both internationally and domestically.
However, no equivalent funds have been allocated to underpinning health services, which have the potential to save far more lives.
According to the research, public health spending has decreased from 1.5 percent of GDP in the late 1980s to less than 1%, or less than 4% of the government budget.
According to the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education, this has left Pakistanis with minimal support for medical bills, which account for more than two-thirds of significant economic shocks for impoverished families.
Rapid population expansion simply increases the amount of money spent on health care.