Mayo Hospital, Lahore: The largest teaching hospital of the country.

Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world with 170 million people living in some way or the other. Quality of life is low, inflation has become a serious problem, the government has seldom been stable, etcetera, etcetera… we have heard the rant before.

Let me add some more facts to this hefty list of “what’s wrong”. It is stated in a study by the WHO (World Health Organization) that for every doctor available there are 1,250 patients who need treatment, for every bed of hospital there are 1,666 candidates of the hurt and the sick and there is 1 dentist for every 10,000 Pakistanis.

A much more pressing problem than orthodontia would be that only 2% of the National budget is expended on the Health Sector which means that most of your medical bills have to come out of your pocket.

So, it should not come as a surprise that Pakistan ranks eighth on the list of “High Burden Tuberculosis Countries”, has a high incidence of Malaria, HIV, Hepatitis A and E, Dengue Fever, Bacterial Diarrhoea, Typhoid and so many other diseases-  most of which can be cured with the right treatment.

Most rural places have no access to good hospitals, medicine and (real) doctors and travelling expenses are not affordable, leaving most of our people to the help of the more philanthropic hearts.

What’s interesting however is that even places with supposedly good medical facilities are not providing standardized health care for their patients. We watch it on the news every day – patients dying because of the wrong injection being administered or for the lack of care from the hospital staff or from some other reason that puts our Medical Officers and the System as a whole to shame.

We researched in to the matter and were astounded by the number of things amiss with our Heath Sector, things that may seem insignificant but really remark of the inefficiency of hospital personnel and of the dire need for improvement; revolutionary improvement in this field.

It started with a trip to a government hospital where if it was not the unsanitary conditions then it was the appalling sight of attendants pushing their own gurneys to somehow get their patients in to the emergency room.

Inside the E.R. was a chaotic scene of patients running amok asking around for a doctor, of which a few seemed present. One bed in particular caught our eye crowded around by doctors, nurses and family members alike, trying to save a swiftly slipping patient- or so it seemed, for we learnt later that the patient was in fact dead! Theses collective efforts were actually just a ‘show’ saying that the doctors were doing all that they could to save the person in question. On asking the reason we were told of incidents when the hospital staff were physically assaulted by the family and friends of the patient if he/she died and so the family was made to ‘see’ that the hospital is pooling in all of it’s resources and giving the flailing patient his due attention.

There also seemed to be present a certain media threat, meaning, that the doctors could be threatened with media exposure did they make any mistakes and sometimes even if they didn’t.

So the next time you see a report of an inept doctor it might actually imply of his inexpert acting skills!

Speaking of inexpertise, our hospitals are also plagued with the most unfortunate mix up of doctors and departments. A doctor who (poor guy) did his post graduation in, let’s say, cardiology (to do with the heart) would have a duty in the orthopaedic (bones) ward. The result, humorously or grievously, is a patient with a broken bone leaving the hospital with a broken bone, thinking that it is fixed. Of course there are also instances when a patient with an excruciating stomach ache leaves the hospital with no diagnostic tests but a shot of a pain killer, a prescription for a pain killer and a smile on his face!

Now, in most cases the above irresponsibilities might not result in any thing harmful but it is these unpracticed practices that might end up costing us lives. It is for this reason that good hospitals have a protocol, so that the doctors follow a procedure and not their whims.

Problems like corruption, nepotism, and incompetency haunt our health departments, same as in any other public sector. So, if a specific ethnicity gives you preference over capability or your contacts can bully the administration in giving you a well-paid job, know that in doing either, you contribute in the deterioration of this sector and hence play with the lives of your own people.

Also know, that it is not possible to point your finger in one direction when finding someone to blame. It has been an amalgamate of many factors that attribute to the crumbling health of our country. The doctors, the patients, the media, and the authorities- all are reproachable.

The problems with the provision of medical facilities remain numerous and where it may be staggering, the responsibility of improvement lies in our hands.

Realizing the issues is the start of a revival, but there is still a long way to go…