KARACHI, April 29: Having agreed that consecutive governments in the country had badly neglected the health of citizens at all levels, leaders of political parties at a seminar pledged to work for an efficient, beneficial and accountable healthcare system if their parties were elected in the next general election and given the chance to rule.

Leaders belonging to the PPP, PML-N, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and workers party recognized several areas to be addressed on a priority basis. These include:

malnutrition, inadequate immunity in children under five, higher rate of mortality among pregnant mothers and neonates, epidemics like polio, dengue, malaria, measles and
diarrhea, poor health indicators, meager allocation of funds, shortage of doctors and nurses in rural areas, unrealistic and excessive drug pricing, exorbitant cost of treatment in the private sector, corruption and irresponsibility in the utilization of funds, human resources and infrastructures and the absence of a social and health insurance system for the general population.

The seminar was organised by the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Sindh as part of its pre-election effort to include a provision on access to universal healthcare in the manifestoes of these political parties and subsequently incorporate it into future government health policies in Sindh.

Representatives of various NGOs and professional groups informed party leaders that the Sindh government was allocated only 0.7 percent of the health budget of 2011-12 and that too was largely being spent on supporting diagnostic procedures as opposed to prevention.

They also expressed concern over the elevated mortality risk among pregnant women and said it reflected the failure of the government to provide healthcare facilities to the female population. They demanded an allocation of at least four percent of the provincial budget on the health sector.

The meeting was also informed that only a third of the budget was being spent on primary health care  – in direct contradiction to the universality of the importance of primary health care.

President of PMA Sindh, Dr Samreena Hashmi, said that the rate of malnutrition in children under five had not declined in the last 30 years due to which the country could be facing a devastating and irreversible damage. “The body and the brain do not develop properly when constantly exposed to infection and illness and without nutritious food,” she
said.

Taj Haider of the PPP said that his party had planned to establish a separate department to focus on preventive health initiatives. The party would also implement a massive health insurance system in phases for the entire population starting with the people who lived below the poverty line.Referring to the high prices of medicine and drugs, he said that
government could tackle this by producing essential drugs at a public sector factory throughout the year for government health facilities, and the prices of the life saving drugs
could be controlled separately as well as be partially subsidized.

Mohammad Hussain Mahenti of Jamaat-i-Islami Karachi said that his party valued the need for an efficient health system and would ensure that health personnel from the level of ministers and secretaries to doctors and paramedics worked above their personal interest. “We would certainly bring revolutionary changes in the health sector,” he said.

Khawaja Tanweer Nadeem of PML (N) said that his party would establish a comprehensive scheme for basic healthcare. “First we would focus on the rural areas where about 75 per cent of the population lives. These are disease prone areas where the death rate is higher.”

Ameer Nawab Khan of ANP said that his party believed that seven per cent of the budget should be allocated to health and 10 per cent to education. He said that, following the pattern of existing social security institutions of the health care system, his party would ensure the establishment of one health centre for every 5000 people.

Dr Arif Alvi of PTI said that his party believed that every person should have access to healthcare without any discrimination. “We will give due priority to the delivery system, health workforce, equipment, building blocks, drug regulations, as well as impose a strong system of audit and accountability.”

Akhtar Hussain of Pakistan Workers Party said that a decent human life could not be ensured without a right to education and healthcare. Dr Humaiyun Bashir of Awami Jamhoori Mahaz, said that people living in rural areas and the workers community be given their share of attention.

Dr Hadi Bux Jatoi, Dr Hilda Saeed, Dr Kauser S Khan, Dr Hasina Chagani, Dr Zahid, Dr Razzak Memon, Dr M Suleman Otho and Dr Syed Anjum Ali also spoke.

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