“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day.”
(Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear)
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (United Nations, 1948). So, when medical care is the right every human being, it must be given. This begs the question that why is it then that in our country, with a huge population which lives below the poverty line, people have to worry about the availability and affordability of medical resources?
Taking into consideration, a country such as Pakistan, poverty has been an issue for as long as anyone can remember. Based on the data by 2012/13 and 2014/15 Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement survey and the 2013/14 FATA Development Indicators Household Survey, this is the multidimensional poverty index (MPI) of Pakistan in 2014-15 (United Nations Development Programme Pakistan, 2016):
According to the figures above, the intensity of poverty is 54.6% nationwide in rural areas whereas the overall intensity is 38.8%. If we look at cross sectional data, we can see that even on the provincial level the rate is alarmingly high in rural areas in comparison to the urban areas. These people and families are financially challenged to begin with and throwing expensive healthcare in the mix would be quite unbearable. This brings me to my question: In a country such as Pakistan, are medical services a basic human right or a privilege?
I come from a military family which entails a lifestyle with several benefits, free healthcare being one of them. So, while having several things to worry about such as the safety of my father and his companions, one thing I never had to worry about in my life was healthcare. However, there are millions of families out there who have to worry about this one particular thing amongst various other problems. To explain the issue further, I am going to analyze the situation of the province of Sindh. With Sindh government presenting its annual budget for the fiscal year 2020-21, a major cut of 18.8% in the development funds was revealed (The Express Tribune, 2020). This begs the question, “Do we nearly have enough for all? Or better yet, do we have enough for those who really need it”?
Many people, from all corners of the world believe that the healthcare system is a for-profit business, which cares more about the money than the people. We can observe the same for-profit attitude in Pakistan. Samaa TV, a well reputed news channel, reported that many hospitals in Sindh have been charging excessively for rooms recently due to an increase in the demand because of the corona virus (Samaa TV, 2020). I personally experienced the capitalist patterns in our healthcare system, when I found out that a well-reputed hospital in Karachi had been charging over Rs. 300,000 per night for private rooms due unavailability of beds in the general wards that have been converted into isolation wards for the coronavirus patients. This amount of money is no joke and to majority of the population it would come down to making a tough decision; whether they pay this amount of money and risk going into a financial crisis, or they compromise on a cheaper hospital with comparatively less favorable conditions and facilities. There are so many families out there who have to consider many factors before that can afford to think about someone’s health. What makes the situation worse is that this is an example of a mega city like Karachi that has advanced medical facilities and healthcare services than the rest of Sindh.
Having such a huge population that comes below the poverty line, you would think that something would have been done to make medical conditions easily available for the people who come under this group, however that has not been the case. There are not many health insurances plans for those who are the most vulnerable, the underprivileged community. They have to pay out of their own pockets if they need any medical treatment but due to the limited or no resources, majority are unable to undergo the necessary treatments. More than 70 million people in Pakistan are living below the poverty line, that is easily 33% of the population most of whom earns less than Rs. 350 per day (Nafi, 2018). Needless to say, it is almost impossible for someone with income like this to pay huge amounts for medical relief. On top of the pre-existing social and economic disadvantages for the underprivileged people, the coronavirus has further damaged their economical standing. To add onto this, doctors, nurses, and helping staff from hospitals in Sindh have been boycotting their work at outpatient departments in their respective hospitals due to the lack of support by the government i.e. the unavailability of personal protective equipment, etc. In addition to this, there are no advanced healthcare services in slums and rural areas due to which majority of people have to rely on quacks in their areas (Nafi, 2018), which more often than not is highly unreliable and unsafe. All of these factors further take away people’s right to healthcare.
In countries such as Pakistan, healthcare does appear to be a privilege only available to those who belong from a specific income group or profession. The rest of the population does not have access to this basic necessity and a fundamental human right which is a pity.
Non-government organizations often play an active role when it comes to healthcare. Of course, miracles cannot happen overnight, and it certainly is not an easy road in making healthcare easily available to all of the population who are deprived of this right; nonetheless, something can be done. NGOs every so often set up medical camps where doctors donate their time in order to attend to the people who cannot afford these services and tend to their needs without any consultation charges. The medicines are made available to them cost-free. If things are to be taken more upscale, NGOs can work side by side with doctors and surgeons to provide pro bono (free of charge) services which means that doctors donate their time and do not charge for their service from the general public. Donations can be collected by the organizations involved so any or all costs incurred can be taken care off. Especially during this entire pandemic, supplies such as masks, sanitizers, disinfectants, gloves, etc., have not been easily made available to the doctors who have been in the frontline of this battle. NGOs and the government can work together in order to make these supplies available to these heroes and show them support.
The road to making healthcare easily available to everyone in our country is long and difficult but I believe and I hope that by raising awareness and working towards this goal, even on an individual level, we can achieve this goal and make our country and other countries such as ours a better and safer place.
Nafi, J. (2018, August 27). List of Top 5 NGOs Organizing Medical Camps in Pakistan. Retrieved from Transparent Hands: https://www.transparenthands.org/list-of-top-5-ngos-organizing-medical-camps-in-pakistan/
Samaa TV. (2020, June 11). Here’s how to report Sindh hospitals charging excessive room charges. Retrieved from SAMAA: https://www.samaa.tv/living/health/2020/06/heres-how-to-report-sindh-hospitals-charging-excessive-room-charges/
The Express Tribune. (2020, June 17). Sindh slashes development funds by 18.8%. Retrieved from The Express Tribune: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2244791/1-sindh-slashes-development-funds-18-8
United Nations. (1948, December 10). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights [PDF File]. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
United Nations Development Programme Pakistan. (2016, June 20). Multidimensional Poverty in Pakistan [PDF File]. Retrieved from UNDP in Pakistan: https://www.pk.undp.org/content/pakistan/en/home/library/development_policy/Multidimensional-Poverty-in-Pakistan.html