ISLAMABAD: The old saying ‘Health is Wealth’ is no more applicable in a world we inhabit today where wealth ensures good health and not the vice versa. It means the more money you have, the better health you enjoy, as an individual and as a state. However, lack of better health facilities, least health awareness, and low expenditure on health has widened health disparities (access to health care) between the rich and poor of the country.
Today, one may ensure that Pakistanis enjoys a vast network of health care facilities, but accessibility, cost and quality of health care remain critical issues, mainly because spending on health by government remains abysmally low i.e. 0.54 percentage of GDP, which is amongst the lowest of all other countries of South Asian region.
World Bank’s recent publication ‘Tackling Non-communicable Diseases in South Asia (2011)’ has termed ‘Non-communicable Diseases’ (NCDs) as Pakistan’s next major health challenge. NCDs include Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD), Mental Health (neuropsychiatric conditions), injuries, Chronic Respiratory Diseases, Cancers, and Diabetes.
While the report also revealed that “a National Essential Drugs List (containing 452 drugs) exists, but the stock and availability of the drugs are problematic as only a quarter of primary health centers are stocked with basic medicines such as aspirin, thus making the drugs costly, and accessible to only those who can afford it from private health centers.
Dr. Javaid A. Khan, a senior chest physician lamented that in Pakistan, a single cigarette pack was cheaper than a loaf of bread and consequently smoking was getting popular among youth due to its easy availability and affordability. On the other hand, the treatment to curb smoking such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and medicines such as “Tarceva, (used for the treatment of lung cancer) costs patients more that US$ 4000 per month, and is unaffordable for majority of Pakistani.”
What Pakistan needs on this World Health Day 2011 is a National Health Survey to gauge the gravity of health situation in the country. Since only a thorough research can facilitate the authorities in formulating effective policies that can provide equal health facilities to the all the segments of the society without distinguishing between the socio-economic status of a citizen.