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Pakistan taking right steps for health sector advancement

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least half of the world’s population still lacks access to necessary health services; greater than 800 million people spend at least 10 percent of their household income on health care, and out of pocket expenses drive almost 100 million people into poverty each year. As states move forward post-COVID-19, it will be vital to avoid cuts in public spending on health and other social sectors. Such cuts are probable to raise hardship among already disadvantaged groups, weaken health system performance, raise health risks, add to fiscal pressure in the future and undermine development gains. Instead, governments should meet WHO’s recommended target of spending an additional 1 percent of GDP on primary health care (PHC). Scaling up PHC interventions across low- and middle-income countries could save 60 million lives and increase average life expectancy by 3.7 years by 2030.

WHO also said that governments must also reduce the worldwide shortfall of 18 million health workers needed to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030. In the developing countries like Pakistan, statistics conclude in the economic survey of Pakistan that the national health security is increasingly threatened in the country because of population growth, growing urbanization, environmental pollution and change in lifestyle of people, among other factors. Good nutrition also has a direct impact on the overall health and quality of life. No doubt, the present Government of Pakistan is committed to enhancing the healthcare facilities and provision of good nutrition for efficiently utilizing the human potential of Pakistan. The challenges to the health system will be further exacerbated through the direct and indirect impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has posed considerable health risks to an already vulnerable population living in Pakistan with inadequate healthcare infrastructure. Sources record that the technological interventions Pakistan, like various other developing states, is also seeing increasing role of technology in the health sector, a main example is the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) Refinance Facility for Combating COVID-19 (RFCC). Among other objectives, the facility is also planned at improving the capacity of the health sector, mainly to deal with health emergencies. This facility can be availed by banks and development finance institutions and by all hospitals and healthcare facilities, not just to combat this pandemic, but also to improve their overall capacities.

According to the SBP, Rs 14.3 billion has been requested under the RFCC over the last 10 months and issuance of Rs 10 billion has been approved. According to dissimilar data sources the health work force density, hospital beds, doctors and paramedics ratio to population are much lower than the required thresholds in Pakistan. Statistics show that Pakistan’s healthcare spending for 2018 was $43, seen as 1.46 percent raise from 2017 when it was $42, an 8.6 percent raise from 2016. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, released on 31 March 2021 has ranked Pakistan 153rd out of 156 countries on gender inequality and categorized it among the bottommost 10 states in two of the four sub-indexes: Economic Participation and Opportunity (152nd) and Health and Survival (153rd). It is also noted that the technological interventions in Pakistan’s health sector following the COVID-19 outbreak include the establishment of an online COVID-19 platform by the Government of Pakistan, the establishment of the National Command and Operation Centre as a nerve center to synergise the unified national attempt against the pandemic, use of social and electronic media to disseminate awareness messages pertaining to pandemic-related standard operating procedures, introduce of a resource management system and the Pak Neghayban app, among others. Sources also record that Pakistani startups have raised $18 million in the first 6-month of 2020. It is stated that that healthcare and e-commerce startups received most funds in the country during the first half of 2020, basically due to the increased demand for e-commerce and healthcare services following the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan in late February in 2020.

Moreover, technology adoption in Pakistan is in line with global trends today. Total 18 of the world’s 20 major vaccine producers were already running their production on SAP solutions that covered the end-to-end process from manufacturing to controlled distribution to administration and post-vaccine monitoring. Sources also record that the government is planning to develop an Integrated Diseases Surveillance and Response System (IDSRS) with public health laboratories network and workforce development for transition of field epidemiology which is aimed at early detection of communicable diseases and generate an early response. The health sector project costing Rs4,544 million is being sponsored by the Ministry of Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and would be completed within a period of 2-year. Unluckily Pakistan is among the lowest spenders on health research where various young medical graduates and research enthusiasts fail to conduct research in their areas of interest because of lack of funding or strings attached to the accessibility of research grants from the Government of Pakistan and global institutions.

In the last I would like to mention here that COVID-19 pandemic, which brought the world to a standstill, claimed millions of lives, confined many others to isolation and poorly damaged the global economy, continues to trouble the world to present. Joblessness, rising local violence, deaths, healthcare failures, and overburdened hospitals the downsides to the pandemic are countless. However, though few, there have been plusses, most notable of them being technological interventions in the health sector. COVID-19 paved the way for rapid technology adoption to cope with the crisis.

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