No austerity in health

Yasmin Rashid’s appointment as the health minister in Punjab is a welcome “change.” She is not just an accomplished gynecologist but also a dedicated political worker. Rashid led spirited election campaigns against the top Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz leadership in Lahore.

But more importantly she understands the health sector and its limitations. Firstly, we hope that Rashid will work to improve the maternity health and infant mortality rates in Punjab. There should be thorough deliberations on alternative solutions before a decision like eliminating or reducing the Mobile Health Units.

Secondly, there is a need for more staff at every level and further training of those already serving the sector. Furthermore, South Punjab includes over one dozen districts. Barring a few districts like Multan and Layyah, all of them are in the medium or low Human Development Index (HDI) list generated by the UNDP in 2017. Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur rank at the bottom of the HDI list.

The southern Punjab districts are inhabited by over 100 million people as per the 2017 data. Multan has Nishtar Hospital and Rahim Yar Khan has Sheikh Zayed Hospital. Many patients breathe their last before reaching such hospitals. There is a dire need for better hospitals, with proper medical facilities, equipment, and trained staff along with medical colleges to train future doctors from the area.

The extension of the Punjab government’s health insurance scheme to the remaining 19 districts is a welcome change. The PTI-led government in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa founded a Sehat Sahulat program that issued Sehat Insaf cards to those benefitting from the Benazir Income Support Programme. A large number of families in the province received health coverage. This program should be replicated in Punjab if possible, particularly in the districts that are low on the HDI index.

But all of this is impossible without better funds allocation. Even though the slogan of austerity and reduction in government spending has resonated with people, health and education are among those sectors that deserve more funds.  *

Published in Daily Times, September 10th 2018.