Pakistan News

Speakers lament poor health indicators in Pakistan

Speakers lament poor health  indicators in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Bangladesh has better health indicators than Pakistan and now Afghanistan’s health sector is also improving at a better rate than Pakistan.

On Wednesday, speakers at a meeting quoted examples from Afghanistan to encourage Pakistan’s health departments to follow similar policies for bringing improvements in health indicators.

The meeting which discussed ‘National vision for coordinated priority actions to address challenges of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child health and nutrition in Pakistan’ was chaired by National Health Services Minister Saira Afzal Tarar. Participants included representatives from the WHO, USAID and Unicef.

Director of Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health at Agha Khan University Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, while speaking to participants, said that district health centres must be improved to reduce the mortality rates of mothers and children.

“Afghanistan has improved remarkably in Mother Mortality Rate (MMR) and Infant Mortality Rate (IMR),” he said.

“Kabul has reduced these rates by 28 per cent and we have maintained the same rates for the last 30 years. The highest mortality rates for children are in Southern Punjab but we do not have a single programme to address food security,” he said.

Dr Bhutta told Dawn that Afghanistan had progressed by not only reducing IMR but also addressing malnutrition. “However, there is a central government in Afghanistan which is working in their favour,” he said.

“In Pakistan, the government and civil society should play their role in improving health indicators. Instead of Afghanistan, we should be comparing ourselves with countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and India which were once behind us in terms of health indicators but are now ahead of us,” he said.

Unicef Director Health Dr Mickey Chopra, who was visiting from New York, also highlighted the progress made by Afghanistan in the health sector.

“Afghanistan has introduced a scorecard for every district to analyse the performance of districts in different sectors,” he said.

Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta said the government cannot do enough for mother and child health by investing 10 to 15 USD per person.

“Although there is improvement in MMR and IMR but we are far away from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Our target for IMR was 41 but still 86 out of 1,000 newborns in this country do not survive. Every year, in Pakistan 356,000 children die the day they are born,” he said.

Dr Bhutta said that since Pakistan was a diverse country, the indicators were different in various places.

“It is embarrassing that diarrhea and pneumonia still kill 120,000 children in Pakistan every year,” he said.

“Some steps don’t require investment such as checkups of babies and mothers on the first day of birth of child and breast feeding should be ensured within one hour of birth,” he said.

Dr Zulfiqar said that although immunisation rate has increased from 35 per cent to 54 per cent, this change was slow and uneven across the country.

During the meeting NHS Minister Saira Afzal Tarar reiterated that the government was committed to ensuring mother and child safety through proper immunisation and better nutrition. An action plan for the next 10 years aimed at achieving goals in health sector was presented for discussion and endorsement.

“With this plan we will further our evidence-based equity approach. We will build on best practices and invest in finding new innovative ways to reduce mortality rates, focusing on the most vulnerable,” said the minister.

Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2015

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