We commend Punjab for banning medical treatment abroad, but will politicians like Nawaz Sharif actually adhere to it?

Published: September 23, 2017

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif waves upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi.PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite what the popular opinion may be, the Punjab government must be commended for taking objective measures to ensure austerity in the province.

The Punjab government has imposed an extensive ban, restricting all ministers, MPA’s and officials from travelling abroad for medical treatment at the government’s expense. Furthermore, the government has banned recruitment against vacant posts, imposed a complete ban on the procurement of locally assembled and imported new vehicles, amongst various other bans.

The ban that I feel is most welcome is imposing a restriction on travelling abroad for medical treatment.

Healthcare in Pakistan poses a major problem for every government. It is not only the lack of hygiene in hospitals, it extends to the lack of equipment, the lack of skilled and trained doctors, exorbitant rates being charged in private hospitals and the government’s budget allocation towards the healthcare system.

In 2014, the healthcare budget was just Rs26.8 million, but this year, it witnessed a massive increase of 25% (Rs54 billion). The government is finally realising how important healthcare really is and rightfully so.

In 2013, public spending on health was $9.31 per person, much less than the internationally recommended $60 per person. It was reported that 78.08% of the population pays from their pockets for healthcare. With the recent reallocation of the budget, we’ll hopefully see this spending trend change for the better.

For the first time in Pakistan, we have equality between the common man and officials, something that has been a major hurdle in Pakistan’s progression. We will now have a common man setting foot in the same hospitals and consulting the same doctors as any influential person, politician and official. Not only will this set an example of equality, but it will also allow responsible officials to witness the shortcomings in our healthcare system.

Currently, the existing system, especially the public hospitals, is a sorry sight. In terms of medical equipment, 373 of the 3,334 machines, including ventilators, are out of order in the province. Medicines being sold at hospitals are of substandard quality and unfortunately, the health department has not taken any steps towards curbing this issue.

The Bahawalpur tragedy shed light on the ineptness of Punjab’s medical facilities as well. Unfortunately, burn victims had to be airlifted to Multan because there were only 30 beds at the Victoria hospital, which were obviously not enough to accommodate the number of casualties.

Another shocking revelation that we came to know about was that only 209 beds are available for burn patients at four major state-run hospitals in Punjab.

And if there are established hospitals with state-of-the-art equipment, there are not enough doctors to treat patients. Considering the number of medical students the system churns out every year, this comes as a surprise. Either doctors immigrate in search of greener pastures, or end up not practicing. Even though the government has imposed regulations regarding this, the problem still exists.

Thus, it is not only the machinery, it is also the vacancy of posts that pose a problem.

Thus, this ban will prove to be beneficial because our officials will finally come face to face with the actual state of affairs in government-run hospitals.

But before we go any further, I think this ban should be imposed on our former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, whose wife is currently in London, being treated for lymphoma.

Before this, Nawaz had flown to London for a medical check-up and also had his open heart surgery performed in London. I do understand that the expense of this trip may have come out of his pocket, but being a prominent Pakistani politician, he should set a precedent by adhering to the ban as well.

If this ban is imposed, and Nawaz still flies to London for all his ailments, then the ban will become redundant. The same goes for all politicians. Nawaz has not been the only one to fly to London, as even Imran KhanPervez Musharraf and Pir Pagara have done the same in the past.

This in a way creates a negative image of Pakistan’s healthcare system. If our leaders don’t have enough faith in our doctors and our medical facilities, how can we expect the common man to?

The ban is a welcome addition but let’s hope it is put into action and not pushed to the back bench, like quite a few bills that are passed.

Whether the ban will be adhered to in letter and spirit is yet to be seen. But what is certain is that the ban will be a blessing for Pakistan’s healthcare system.

Mushal Zaman

Mushal Zaman

The author is a sub-editor at Tribune. She tweets as @MushalZ90 (twitter.com/MushalZ90)

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

  • Parvez

    Bolting the stable door after the horse has run away …… at the stage we are this is but a cosmetic change….but then again every positive step counts if we are to pull ourselves out of the mess our leaders have landed us in.Recommend

  • Arshad khan

    You should keep in mind these senseless politicians have no loyalty to this poor country nor they intrested to make it progressive nation, they are just here to rule like monarchs and plunder it to the maximum, all their familes settlements wealth and properties are in dubai, london, usa or other western countries including their loyalty.Recommend

  • SHAH S

    These Crooks have their homes and property in Dubai, UK, France, Swisse…; They come to my country on visit.. stay for few months, steal, cheat, rob, take bribes and commissions and then go back to their homes in these countries; Why ould they go to so called hospitals here when they can go to best hospitals in Dubai, UK, France and Swisse and get medical treatment from your money stolen by them.Recommend

  • Hassan Mirza

    Pakistani Resident blame others but themself the nation vote corrupt and criminals in Power for money and after that blame politicians for there wrong doing ? Recommend

  • Sane

    These politicians have one point agenda. Loot this country. They have no loyalty or sympathy with this country, They stay only when any looting plan is to be made or executed.Recommend