Political Leaders, Health Experts Should Join Hands to Improve Health Delivery
News 2012
​Political Leaders, Health Experts Should Join Hands to Improve Health Delivery: Experts

October 15, 2012

​Political leaders and health experts will have to work together if health care services in Pakistan are to be improved said speakers at the first of a series of seminars on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH) and nutrition, organised by Aga Khan University’s Division of Women and Child Health, with the support of United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Insufficient awareness and weak political support for adequate financial allocations for health are hampering efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 for maternal and child mortality. The seminars are intended to build consensus on innovative, cost-effective and sustainable interventions and implementation strategies that can improve maternal, newborn and child health conditions in Pakistan.

Dr Noor ul Eman, Secretary Health, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) acknowledged that the province’s health indicators are alarming and a concerted effort, through public-private partnerships, is required for any significant change. He pointed out that in spite of a higher doctor to population ratio of 80 in KPK, as compared to India with 70 and Sri Lanka 60, the desired health outcomes have still not been achieved.

Currently the health department is being reorganised and procedures implemented to make systems more efficient. “Capacity development for staff in statistical analysis is also being planned to ensure an informed decision making process,” he said.

Addressing the audience, Dr Zulfiqar Bhutta, Chair, Division of Women and Child Health, AKU, outlined the challenges for maternal, newborn and child health in Pakistan. Focusing specifically on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he charted the opportunities for implementing key evidence-based solutions such as optimal birth spacing and integration of maternal, newborn and antennal care services, for innovations, and for scaling up activities in the province. With concerted efforts and actual practise, over two-thirds of all unnecessary maternal, newborn and child deaths can be avoided.

Elaborating, he said, “Child health programmes in Pakistan have been vertical or controlled and implemented from the top only. They seem to lose their efficacy at the lower levels, in the tehsils and districts of Pakistan.”

Dr Bhutta pointed out that it is very important for policy makers to consider addressing the inequality gap between the rich and poor, particularly around immunization. “Specially now, with the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in Pakistan, it can only be made effective if the vaccine reaches the right people at the right time,” he pointed out.

Speaking on reproductive health, Dr Shereen Zulfiqar of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, mentioned that Pakistan was one of the first countries in the region to develop a national policy on reproductive health. Unfortunately, the indicators have changed little since then. “Though Pakistan’s population has doubled between 1951 and 1998, no serious measures have been taken by any government to contain it,” said Dr Shereen.

Dr Nabeela Ali, Chief of Party, USAID Technical Assistance Unit for Health, highlighted the urgent need to address the governance and budgetary issues that hamper progress. She pointed out that health expenditure as percentage of GDP has dropped to just 0.27 per cent in 2011-2012, and the target for placement of trained community midwives has barely reached the halfway mark, years after the process has started.

“What will help are increased allocations to health and their proper utilisation; an understanding of issues at hand; and province-specific strategies that will help improve the health care delivery system in Pakistan,” she said.

Dr Nadeem Khawar, Professor, Khyber Medical University said that health indicators are still discouraging and need immediate attention. The maternal mortality rate remains high and the infant mortality rate was 76 deaths per 1000 births in 2008.

Representatives from political parties, civil society organisations and religious parties attended the workshop to ensure broad based discussions and consensus on RMNCH issues.

Similar political advocacy seminars on health are to be held in Karachi and Lahore to share national and relevant provincial analysis, develop awareness around desired outcomes in reproductive health and nutrition in Pakistan in addition to longstanding governance issues.

A final health advocacy seminar is to be held in Islamabad in December this year in which the outcomes of the provincial health advocacy workshops will be shared with national-level political leaders, members of Senate and the outgoing parliament as well as relevant federal authorities with the aim of winning the political commitment – and funding – needed for any real improvements in maternal, newborn and child health, and nutrition.

Media contact:

Rasool Sarang, Assistant Manager Media, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 3920 or rasool.sarang@aku.edu