The melancholic Prime Minister

19 Nov 2016

“… make a man healthy, wealthy and wise”

A few weeks back, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif distributed national health cards in Rahim Yar Khan under the banner of the Prime Minister’s National Health Scheme. During the ceremonial address, he explicitly mentioned the efforts his government is making in order to provide health facilities to the common public. He told the masses that a colossal amount of budget will be spent on the treatment of the poor in both private as well as government hospitals. He emphasised on government sponsored healthcare by dismissing the notion of the poor having to sell their houses and other belongings to get the healthcare they need. If the healthcare expenses exceed 3 lakh rupees, the rest of the expenses will be covered by the national treasure. Amidst all of this, melancholy was explicitly present in his tone; at certain points in his speech, he was clearly on verge of crying. While his proponents attributed his welling up to his humility and kindness, his opponents chose to liken them to ‘crocodile tears’. Mian Sahib pointed out that the rulers would be answerable to God if they did not take care of the ailing poor. However, here another question arises here: wouldn’t they be answerable for not taking measures against the causes behind all these diseases, as well?

Several health units have been set up by the government in South Punjab. They, however, are not performing up to the mark mainly because the environmental hazards in these areas need to be addressed first. For instance, the underground water is laced with arsenic that is extremely injurious to health. This polluted water is causing liver, stomach and bladder diseases. Similarly, a number of harmful food additives are mixed with the edibles that in turn have colossal harmful effects on the citizen’s health. For instance in order to increase the weight of the cattle and hens, certain steroids are injected into their bodies. For an enhanced milk production, the cows are injected with oxytocin that causes the girls to hit premature puberty. It is the need of the hour that the respective district government officials launch a campaign against all such nefarious practices. Ayesha Mumtaz has done some remarkable work by reprimanding some of the high-end restaurant brands with fly-blown kitchens; thereby, improving the hygiene situation of restaurants as a whole in Lahore. Now, imagine if the fine dining restaurants in Lahore manifested this level of lack of cleanliness, what the situation would actually be in the down-trodden areas of South Punjab? Similarly, if we talk about the country’s sewerage system, the situation leaves much to be desired. Even the major cities like Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore exhibit immensely poor sewerage situation. In some cities of South Punjab, there is no sewerage system to begin with. The resulting insects, mosquitoes and germs have caused several epidemics to break out. There are some areas where the water dripping from the broken sewerage areas have infused with the drinking water and the residents are forced to drink the consequent contaminated water. There are certain organisations that are working towards improving the sanitary conditions in the country. They are, however, mostly not backed by the provincial or federal government. For instance, Karachi’s Perween Rahman worked day in day out for the betterment of the water and sanitation situation of the city by collaborating with locals on various projects. She relentlessly worked towards eradicating the sewerage problems of the people belonging to the Kachi abadi. She also worked as the project director of the Orangi Pilot Project. However, on March 13, 2013 she was murdered in cold blood near the Pirabad police station. It is immensely unfortunate how such hard working social workers are killed in cold blood while no government officials pay heed to their assassination. Was she posing a political or economic threat for someone by striving to eradicate the causes of disease? And what does Government’s absence of enthusiasm with regards to bringing the perpetrators to justice indicate?

Moving on to the education sector, there are no adequate steps being taken to ensure that the kids are taught about the basic hygiene. While projects like Danish schools in South Punjab are commendable, their number is very few. It is government’s responsibility to provide basic healthcare information to all the residents. Moreover, more healthcare related subjects need to be incorporated in our education system so that the kids grow up to be responsible citizens who can take care of their health and those around them. Why does the government not give more attention towards health education or education as a whole?

Well, there are several reasons including economic and political motives behind this dire situation. For example, the construction of new hospitals opens venues for “kickbacks”. Construction contracts, purchase of new equipment, medicines and other supplies allow the politicians and bureaucracy to gain, personal, “benefits”. Moreover, patients, who can afford, choose to go to the private clinics and hospitals. Thereby, the resulting taxes paid by these private clinics and pharmaceutical industry serve to fill up the national treasure that is in turn used by the government to carry out more “visible” projects such as building of roads and bridges, including more hospitals , so that they can brag about them during election campaigns and eventually bag more votes. In a way neglecting disease prevention measures seems to be part of a sinister conspiracy against the working class of Pakistan. It, in essence, seems to be a tactic to keep the public bogged down with expensive disease treatments and paying unnerving medical bills rather than spending on their education or achieving political awareness. With an ailing patient at home and mounting medical bills, who has time or energy to take cognizance and censure the wrongdoings of the ruling junta?

Published in “Pakistan Today” on 19 November 2016.

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