جنوری 19, 2015

Improving public health

 

Public health services in Pakistan range from the barely-adequate to the almost completely absent with every gradation of deficit in between. Any initiative to improve public health, particularly the health of those most in need is to be welcomed. Health planning is bedevilled by a leaden bureaucracy and inefficient budget disbursal. Planning for anything other than the short term is relatively rare, and fresh approaches and ideas rarer. Both are in evidence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where there is a proposal to introduce health insurance cards for what are described as “deserving people”. Four districts will see the roll-out of the initiative — Mardan, Malakand, Kohat and Chitral. This will be especially welcome in Chitral, which is far behind on virtually every development indicator.

The proposal has a number of innovative features, prominent among those being that patients, who cannot be treated at government hospitals because the appropriate equipment or expertise is not available at government hospitals, can get treated in the private sector. Collection of baseline data is already underway using the considerable databank that is held by the Benazir Income Support Programme. The initiative has support at the federal level — which for reasons beyond reason wanted it delayed but the provincial government went ahead nonetheless — and will widen the footprint of basic health provision in a province where that provision is poor or patchy, particularly outside of the principal towns. In the bigger picture it will feed into the UN Sustainable Development Goals via the universal health coverage system. The new initiative will eliminate some of the corruption that plagues the Baitul Maal, where the applications for free healthcare of the deserving poor were sidelined by those who were in reality able to pay. This is not all going to happen overnight province-wide, and it is estimated that it will be five years before full coverage is achieved. We wish the best of health to this initiative.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 17th, 2015.

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