Spearhead Analysis – 12.04.2019
By Syed Murtaza Zaidi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
The PTI’s short tenure since their election win last year has been contentious to say the least. While there have been quite a few positives, particularly with regards to their climate change policies and recent handling of the Indian violation of Pakistan’s airspace, in other aspects they have been struggling quite a lot. One major area of concern has been the economy, after the rise of the dollar rate to a record high, the deceleration of the GDP, and the recent slide witnessed at the Pakistan Stock Exchange. Among this turmoil, the PTI has had very little to celebrate, however, perhaps their certain new health initiatives might offer some respite.
In December 2018, the Peshawar High Court received a notification that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had not allocated sufficient funds for the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Medical Transplantation Regulatory Authority (KPMTRA). These funds were urgently required due to the rising cases of illegal kidney transplants around the province, as well as a host of other medical malpractices that needed to be brought under control.
During a hearing on the case, Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan enquired as to why the FIA had not yet taken action against the people or groups involved in the illegal kidney transplant trade and what was stopping the KPMTRA from doing its job. It came down to the Chief Executive Officer of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Healthcare Commission (KPHCC), Azar Sardar, to submit a report with details on the ongoing operations underway regarding the improvement of health services in the province.
According to the report he submitted, the KPHCC had allegedly sealed over 2200 clinics and substandard private hospitals last year. They had further sealed 704 clinics, and operation theatres in Peshawar, along with 190 illegal clinics in Nowshera, 180 in Mardan, 104 in Charsadda, 145 in Swabi, 172 in Abbottabad, 161 in Haripur, 184 in Mansehra, 86 in Kohat, 98 in Dera Ismail Khan, 176 in Bannu and 63 in Swat.
Furthermore, the commission had registered over 5000 new clinics and private hospitals in KPK, with an estimated revenue of over 100 million rupees. Sardar ended his summary by asking for additional funds and personnel, especially field inspectors, so that even more improvements could be made to the health service industry in KPK, as well as Pakistan as a whole.
Over in Sindh, the Chairperson of the Sindh Health Care Commission (SHCC), Professor Dr. Tipu Sultan, recently made an announcement related to the growing practice of quackery in the province, particularly in the South District of Karachi. Quackery is the practice of pretending to be a professional medical practitioner without having the prerequisite knowledge, skill and authorization required to be a doctor. According to Sultan, after a comprehensive survey and mapping campaign was conducted in the region, the Anti-Quackery Directorate of SHCC was finally ready to initiate a drive to end quackery once and for all.
The SHCC’s main objectives were to not only end the practice of quackery itself, but to also improve the quality of existing medical facilities throughout the province. This would be done by improving methods of communication between different departments, hospitals and clinics, as well as by the provision of quality medicine and doctors at each location. Dr. Sultan also pointed out that increased cooperation would be required between the SHCC, the Sindh Health Department, law enforcement agencies and local administration of the respective districts for this campaign to be a success in the long run.
Professor Dr. Tipu Sultan also highlighted figures related to the registration and licensing of healthcare facilities. According to his data, over 4500 applications for the registration of various healthcare establishments were received by the SHCC, of which about 3,500 were officially registered. Additionally, provisional licenses were approved for almost 40 healthcare facilities, which included everything from general hospitals, maternity units and rehabilitation centers. Furthermore, the anti-quackery drive had led to 85 unregistered clinics run by quacks to shut down, with penalties and fines for each exceeding Rs.500,000. 295 other health facilities were also said to be under investigation.
On the federal level, the Minister for National Health Services (NHS), Aamer Mehmood Kiani, recently announced the confiscation of over 226 medicines worth tens of millions of rupees. They were allegedly manufactured by over fifty different companies, and according to the Minister, “These companies were selling medicines at prices higher than the maximum retail prices (MRPs) due to which the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) was directed to act against these firms”. He added that “we (NHS) will not tolerate price hikes as they directly affect poor people” and that “we have also stopped manufacturing of those medicines which were being sold at higher rates as compared to Maximum retail prices. Not only fines are being imposed on the companies but additional prices will be recovered from them”.
According to Kiani, at the moment the operation regarding the check on the prices of medicine had been initiated in three major cities, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, but there were plans to expand its scope with time. So far, tens of millions worth of medicine had been recovered, while work was also being done with regards to the health cards issued to many people across the country. For the time being, over 65,000 health cards had been issued, however this number was expected to grow to over 55 million people over the next few years. People with these health cards would then be able to afford complete health coverage, for a fraction of the costs and even free in some cases.
While there is still a long way to go before the health service industry in Pakistan can start exhibiting notable improvements, these small initiatives taken by the PTI and the provincial governments are a commendable start. People across the country have been deceived and manipulated for years by corrupt and immoral companies and individuals, with little or no knowledge about various medicines and medical practices, or their applications. It is time this deception stops, so that the people in need can finally receive the healthcare they deserve; it is the least that the government can do for its multitude of disenfranchised citizens.