Political Revenge Against Healthcare

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The abrupt transition of power in Islamabad has ushered in a mindset and leadership that is driven by elite political competitiveness and has no choice but to think and behave in the opposite direction of its predecessor. They must follow the far end’s 180-degree path and establish that their method is the best one, even if it leads to an infinite pit. This abrupt transformation has reduced our healthcare system to a farce, one that we can’t help but laugh at.

The National Licensing Exam is the first joke (NLE). During Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s three-and-a-half years in power, this test was launched to assist in the development of more qualified and practically safe doctors. This exam was seen by medical students as an unwanted load on their already overburdened path to becoming doctors. Doctors’ voices were ignored, so they turned to the streets to protest, blocking highways and knocking on courthouse doors, but in the end, supporters of NLE prevailed.

The first fresh medical graduates who had just earned their MBBS and were working as house officers in hospitals were the first to take the NLE test. They had to work as house officers (junior-most physicians) in busy emergency rooms and overcrowded wards at all hours of the day and night, as well as a struggle with time, energy, and ambition to prepare for a test they considered pointless. The elites’ power is real: the new Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) administration just eliminated the NLE test with a wave of the hand. How convenient has it gotten to tinker with our healthcare’s future? What type of health policies do we impose on our physicians?

The joke has a sequel: we’re all aware of the difficulties the PTI administration faced in dissolving the PMDC (Pakistan Medical and Dental Council) and giving birth to PMC (Pakistan Medical and Dental Council) (Pakistan Medical Commission). Thanks to the PML-N, I went from PMDC to PMC and back to PMDC. We’re getting motion sickness from all of these U-turns. Pakistan’s new governing dynasty must demonstrate to the public that the previous aristocratic administration was mismanaging our healthcare system. It is ‘clear’ that they must repeal all of the previous government’s health programmes and actions.

As the joke goes, Pakistan is not a big spender when it comes to health care. The projected funding for the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) for the fiscal year 2022-2023 has been lowered by nearly eight times, from 154 billion rupees to barely 19 billion rupees. To put things into perspective, Pakistan spent $45 per person on health in 2017–18, compared to $484 and $1,716 per capita in Iran and Qatar, respectively. Our healthcare system has been allowed to fend for itself.

We’ve taken the phrase “ignorance is bliss” much too seriously. Our healthcare system is deteriorating, and the sooner we recognise this, the better.

The average reader will put on a straight face and reflect for a moment or two on the gravity of the situation our healthcare system is in, before getting up and going about his or her business, leaving this discussion for fancy dinners and gatherings to boost his or her self-confidence and self-worth. And if our current PML-N policymakers see this piece, they will quickly read Reham Khan’s book and bury their heads in the sand as if nothing has happened.

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