Health sector’s weaknesses


WEB DESK: A team of health experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and International Health Organization (IHO) recently came on a 10-day visit to Islamabad to assess current capabilities in areas affecting public health, identify gaps and challenges, and provide recommendations for priority action.

The team is to send a detailed report on its findings after two weeks, but a preliminary report has identified several weak areas and made recommendations for improvement. Briefing journalists on the visit, Director General of the Ministry of National Health Services said Pakistan was the first country in the region to have volunteered for the assessment, because “we wanted our weaknesses to be identified so that we could start efforts to address those issue”, adding that foreign donor agencies are to be contacted for cooperation to deal with problem areas.

As a matter of fact, some of the major weaknesses pointed out by the visitors are all too familiar, such as that there is need to streamline the affairs of laboratories and other diagnostic systems; develop uniform regulatory standards for food security; and check antimicrobial resistance (AMR). There is a mushroom growth of laboratories operating independently or at private hospitals, which are manned by people lacking necessary qualifications. And to save costs, many of them skip such basic but vital procedures as screening blood meant for transfusion to ensure safety against various communicable diseases.

That is one reason Hepatitis-C has assumed epidemic proportions in this country. Food adulteration is a serious public health hazard. Just a few days ago, 34 people in southern Punjab town of Layyah died from consuming a poisonous confectionary item. Many of these lives could have been saved had the concerned food regulatory authority been doing its job, or the area’s hospital was equipped with a proper diagnostic facility. Another menace is the excessive use of antibiotics as well as other medicines – often for the furtherance of pharmaceutical companies’ interests – leading to the rise of drug resistant viruses. Even worse, self- prescription is rampant due to an easy over-the-counter availability of all kinds of drugs.

Referring to other weaknesses in the system, the WHO-IHR team urged co-ordination between the federal and provincial governments through a joint health commission, and defining of key priorities. A joint health commission is important, indeed, to resolve turf issues as well as to define national priorities.

It is pertinent to recall here that during the last few years there have been two major incidents involving spurious drugs that claimed many lives while the concerned provinces and the Centre failed to fix responsibility in the absence of a clearly defined drug regulatory system. All that is required to address these issues, aside from better centre-provinces co-ordination, is effective implementation of the existing laws, monitoring of regulatory mechanisms, and assured punishments for violators. That can be done without looking for financial assistance from donor agencies.

Source: Business Recorder