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Polio's War on Pakistan

 

With India managing to eradicate Polio, Pakistan has a golden opportunity to learn from its neighbour
SHAHID HUSAIN | Issue Dated: February 2, 2014, New Delhi
Tags : Pakistan Medical Association |Polio |Medical tourism |M Idrees Adhi |PMA leader | Mirza Ali Azhar | |
 
The Pakistan Medical Association believes that there is great scope of “Medical tourism” between Saarc countries, especially India and Pakistan and the latter can benefit from the expertise of the doctors next door.
 
Prof Dr M Idrees Adhi, an ophthalmologist and PMA leader, said Pakistan was on equal grounds in certain specialised fields, but could benefit from the specialists in India.
 
“It’s a method of collaboration. We need to strengthen research,” the healthcare expert told The News on Friday.
 The PMA leader said the association would strongly resist the illegal business of kidney and liver transplants under way in Pakistan.
 
“Rich people from other countries come here to exploit the low-income strata of the population.”
PMA general secretary-elect Dr Mirza Ali Azhar said medical tourism between India and Pakistan had great potential.
“Pakistan cannot boast of competing with India in the area of liver transplant and dealing with cardiac ailments, but the potential does exist in here.”
 
Dr Azhar lamented that hospitals in Pakistan were ill-equipped and the policymakers lacked vision.
 Prof Adhi said it was true that the efficacy of medicines manufactured by local pharmaceutical firms was as good as those manufactured by multinational companies, but the regulatory authority needed to be effective.
 
When asked if he agreed that an effort was being made by elements with vested interests to malign public sector hospitals and give the impression that private sector hospitals were better, Prof Adhi concurred.
 
“There is inherent corruption in our society. If we endeavour to contain corruption in the public sector hospitals, the allocated health budget can provide solace to a large chunk of low-income groups. But the health budget should be five or six percent of the GDP to ensure healthcare for the masses,” he said.
 
“We ask that the health commission bill be tabled the assembly and you, the media, can play a vital role in its implementation.”
 
Prof Adhi said he was aware that spurious drugs are being marketed in a big way.
 
 “We claim to be human beings but we are acting like animals. The health commission bill has not addressed the issue of spurious drugs. There is a drug control authority at the national level but it needs to be improved.”
 
 The professor said if a doctor operated on a patient, the hospital should be well-equipped.
 “This will bring an end to quackery. Our people don’t know yet as to how much a doctor should be qualified.”
 Dr Azhar said the PMA had a policy of zero tolerance when it came to corruption.
 
“The PMA is very much disturbed by the deterioration of medical education in Pakistan. We don’t have enough professors to teach basic medical sciences at our medical colleges but a plethora of new medical colleges are being opened in the country and Pakistan Medical and Dental Council is solely responsible for it. The system is headed towards a collapse,” he noted.
 
“Doctors are either being killed or kidnapped for ransom or receiving ‘parchis’ from extortionists; they are being harassed. A brain drain is going on. We will do our best to ensure security for doctors.
 
To a question, Dr Azhar said the PMA fully supported operation against terrorists and extortionists.
 
“With the help of the media, we will launch awareness campaigns and set up free medical camps at the Karachi Press Club and other press clubs across the country, focusing on the preventive side of healthcare.”
 
In Pakistan, according to WHO, persistent wild poliovirus transmission is restricted to three groups of districts: (1) Karachi city, (2) a group of districts in Balochistan Province, and (3) districts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In addition, Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan repeatedly re-infect one other, due to the substantial population movements within and between the countries.
 
“With more than 90 per cent of the current polio cases in the country genetically linked to Peshawar, the (city) is now the largest reservoir of endemic poliovirus in the world,” the WHO recently said in a statement.
 
Polio is also endemic in Afghanistan and Nigeria, but of the three countries only Pakistan saw a rise in cases from 2012 to 2013, said the global health body.
 
Tests have found that 83 out of the 91 polio cases in Pakistan last year were genetically linked to strains in Peshawar, while 12 out of 13 cases reported in Afghanistan were also linked.
 
In November, the WHO linked an outbreak of the disease that paralysed 13 children in war-torn Syria to Pakistan.
According to WHO, Pakistan has come a long way in its struggle to eradicate polio. In the early 1990s, the annual incidence of polio was estimated at more than 20 000 cases a year.
 
Since its initiation in 1994, the national polio eradication programme has made major strides in reaching children with immunization in all parts of the country, resulting in a decrease in the number of cases to a low of 28 cases in 2005.
However, since then progress has been hampered by instability and war in border areas with Afghanistan, limiting safe access to children.
 
The programme has also faced managerial problems in certain areas, with the result that children in key high-risk areas do not receive adequate doses of oral polio vaccine.
 
As a result of these factors, the number of cases of polio increased considerably in 2011 to reach 198. Can Pakistan get this down to zero? If India can, then there’s no reason why Pakistan cannot. 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017