FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 46

Revitalizing healthcare system: A call for change

Pakistan’s healthcare system, a cornerstone of national well-being and economic progress, stands at a critical crossroads. While challenges persist across various sectors of our nation, the state of our healthcare system is particularly distressing. With a burgeoning population, dwindling budget allocations, widespread corruption, and a host of structural deficiencies, our healthcare delivery system has steadily deteriorated over time. This situation demands immediate attention and comprehensive reform.

While facing challenges in all sectors of our national life, Pakistan’s healthcare system, which is fundamental to a strong nation and a growing economy, finds itself in an exceptionally dire state. With a burgeoning population, dwindling budget allocations, widespread corruption, and ineffective governance, the healthcare delivery system has steadily deteriorated over time.

The grim state of healthcare in Pakistan has multifaceted dimensions. Among these issues, there is a shortage of skilled healthcare professionals, an abysmal doctor-to-patient ratio, an acute shortage of hospital beds, and the soaring costs of essential medicines that are beyond the reach of the common man. Private sector hospitals are exorbitantly expensive, even for the affluent, while public sector hospitals are overcrowded, with multiple patients often sharing a single bed. These public hospitals also suffer from inadequate supplies of essential medications and medical equipment.

According to Transparency International, Pakistan’s healthcare system ranks among the most corrupt in the world, leaving the majority of the population profoundly dissatisfied with the quality of clinical services available in the public sector. The sector is plagued by numerous deficiencies, including ineffective governance, uneven distribution of healthcare facilities, an inefficient delivery mechanism, and a shortage of qualified professionals.

Startling statistics reveal the gravity of the situation. Every year, Pakistan witnesses 500,000 new tuberculosis cases, placing it as the fifth-highest afflicted country in this category. Approximately 12 million people grapple with hepatitis B and C, making Pakistan the most severely affected nation in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Shockingly, more than 250,000 infants succumb within their first 28 days of life, surpassing the mortality rates in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Mali, and Chad. Pakistan also reports one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the region. In 2022, the country recorded over 3.4 million malaria cases, and malnutrition is pervasive, with four out of ten children suffering from stunted growth. These stunted children face diminished cognitive development, resulting in a loss of economic productivity.

Numerous factors contribute to this distressing state of affairs, with a significant one being the inadequate budgetary allocations for the health sector. Pakistan lags behind many African countries in healthcare spending. More dishearteningly, a substantial portion of the meager health budget is siphoned off by corruption.

This isn’t merely a healthcare crisis; it also imperils our nation’s future viability. A sick or unhealthy Pakistan cannot assert its rightful place among nations. To adopt a long-term perspective, we must address the unchecked population growth that nullifies the development gains we achieve each year.

Expert medical opinion underscores the potential to alleviate the burden of infectious diseases significantly, up to 70 percent, through the provision of clean drinking water and enhanced sanitation. Concurrently, there exists an urgent imperative to address malnutrition concerns in order to foster a healthier generation.

Primarily, we must elevate the quality of our public hospitals, which cater to the majority of underprivileged individuals, by enhancing their staffing, medical equipment, and supplies. The objective is to enhance their functionality to align with international standards for clinical governance, patient care, and safety. To achieve this, a comprehensive plan should be devised to rectify the shortage of skilled and qualified healthcare personnel, health informatics experts, and healthcare economists.

The lamentable dearth of funding has resulted in limited progress in the realm of research and development, which necessitates immediate attention. Simultaneously, measures should be taken to upgrade the infrastructure of the nationwide healthcare system, enhancing the delivery of clinical care.

A glaring deficiency within the current system is the lack of access to public healthcare facilities for millions of people residing in rural areas. Tehsil and district headquarters hospitals operate under dire conditions, and rural dispensaries often remain non-functional, suffering from shortages of medicines and staff. Due to the frail infrastructure of Basic Health Units (BHUs) and Rural Health Centers (RHCs), the majority of rural residents are reluctant to avail themselves of these services, preferring instead to seek the assistance of traditional healers and unqualified practitioners.

The pressing need of the hour is the formulation of a new national health policy. Prior to drafting this policy, a comprehensive assessment of the existing system is imperative to identify the challenges and gaps that require attention. The entity responsible for crafting this policy should conduct an extensive study of healthcare systems in Western countries, as well as in Japan and China, which have set pioneering benchmarks in the health sector.

Among its multifaceted priorities, the policy should emphasize preventive approaches by integrating indigenous healthcare systems and naturopathy, which a substantial number of medical experts and health scholars worldwide regard as the future of medicine.

Pakistan’s healthcare system is in dire need of a transformative overhaul. The provision of clean drinking water, improved sanitation, and nutritional interventions can substantially reduce the burden of infectious diseases. However, the key to a healthier future lies in enhancing the quality of our public hospitals, addressing infrastructure deficiencies, and formulating a comprehensive national health policy.

To accomplish these goals, we must learn from the best practices of healthcare systems in Western countries, Japan, and China. Additionally, we must embrace preventative approaches by integrating traditional healing methods and naturopathy. By undertaking these measures, Pakistan can envision a healthcare system that not only serves its citizens effectively but also positions the nation for a brighter and healthier future. The time for change is now, and the health and well-being of our nation depend on our collective resolve to address these pressing challenges.