Are babies worth much in Pakistan?

Published: April 16, 2011
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This is not a debate about political ideologies but of priorities.

The news of Pakistan topping the world league of still births creates a sense of indignation. It is yet another sad testament of the country’s health sector.

Here in the UK, stillbirths are the highest amongst most developed countries. Although one can apportion some of these causes to placental problems, infections or congenital abnormalities, but there is still a significant number which cannot be explained.

Sadly, the UK and Pakistan will address this problem quite differently – perhaps somewhat predictably.

In the UK, major investment in research will often follow to investigate the causes of such high mortality rates. This follows its natural progression to policy research and investment in healthcare. Although seasoned critics, politicians and scientific bodies will argue the methodology and implementation, a conclusion and decision will eventually be reached.

Sadly, this course of events will not take place in Pakistan. Any attempt to understand and address this latest health dilemma will not result in political capital for the governing party in Islamabad and thus absolves any form of accountability.

I was able to witness the frustrations of introducing some form of gynecological and obstetric service in a rural village in Pakistan devastated by the floods, last year whilst I was working for an international NGO.

We advertised for an obstetrician and gynecologist with a competitive salary and benefits. The reason for this move stemmed from our concern that an untrained female dai (midwife) was delivering babies without any clinical knowledge. There was no question of her dedication but as a group of health professionals, it would have been clinical negligence to avoid this fissure in our services. After much deliberation, we managed to hire an obstetrician but soon she resigned.

This event was a snapshot of a national crisis in medical care for women. One can appreciate the argument of Pakistan’s economic woes as one of the reasons for lack of investment in health, but we should take note of the success of Cuba; it is a country which has suffered decades of various sanctions, but still continues to deliver healthcare comparable to many developed nations.

This is not a debate about political ideologies but of priorities, investment and accountability. Otherwise we can maintain the status quo and await the next set of incriminating revelations for Pakistan.

Update:

April 18, 2011

The headline of this post has changed at the special request of the writer.

Naveed Iqbal

Dr Naveed Iqbal

An accident and emergency doctor working in England who was previously chairman of the British medical association North West junior doctors' committee.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.