On the directives of Islamabad High Court (IHC) restructuring of the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council is under way in the light of the recommendations of the three member commission appointed by the IHC. This commission which included Mr. Ejaz Rahim former Federal Health Secretary, Dr. Sania Nishtar and Dr. Fazle Hadihad come up with an excellent document and their report has not only highlighted the problems but also come up with important suggestions. The Management Committee has done well to set the election process in motion and has rightly laid down certain conditions for eligibility to contest the elections. It was essential that only those who are professionally mature, competent should contest elections as PM&DC is a regulatory body and not a trade union body of doctors. Hence, wisdom of the members of the managing committee needs to be commended.
As recommended by the Commission, conflict of interest has been given due importance and no owner of the private medical & dental institution is eligible to contest elections. Unfortunately, after the previous “maneuvered and disputed” elections, PM&DC was converted into an association of private medical and dental colleges. As many as eight owners of these institutions were members of the Executive Committee and the only thing which they did efficiently was to allow increase in number of seats in each other’s medical institution and increase in fees which all meant more money for the owners of these institutions. The mess it has created will take some time to clear but it is heartening to note that now the things have started moving in the right direction. If all goes well, we will have an effective PM&DC set-up functioning in the next couple of months. The authorities will be well advised to ensure inclusion of some non-medical members in the new set up on lines with the General Medical Council of Great Britain.
PM&DC affairs were not so bad till the Director General of Health in the Federal Health Ministry used to be its President. Most often he used to be someone from the general cadre. Since PM&DC was supposed to monitor and regulate the medical and dental institutions, many members felt that the President should be someone who should be from the teaching institutions who is fully aware of the problems faced by these institutions. A campaign was started to urge the government to allow election of President of the PM&DC by its members. After some time, the Government agreed but how the affairs of the PM&DC were conducted by the leadership thus elected has proved beyond any doubt that medical profession is not capable of running and managing the affairs of PM&DC efficiently. Corruption has become rampant and communications sent to the PM&DC are never acknowledged most often. What is surprising is the fact that no member of the previous executive committee is reported to have ever protested although it is known that some executive members avoided attending these meetings as they did not want to associate themselves with the decisions the Council was taking. It will be interesting to find out if any of the former Executive Committee members ever lodged a protest or wrote a note dissent on the decisions taken by the PM&DC. If all of those who attended these meetings kept silence or did not register their protest, they are all partner in the crimes committed by the previous administration. In view of all this, the Government will be well advised not to leave the PM&DC “Mother Piddar Azad” and ensure to have effective control to oversee its functioning.
Once the new PM&DC set up is in place, the first thing they should do is to make a thorough assessment of the staff working in the council. Over the years lot of dead wood has been accumulated there. Many of those entrusted with important jobs and occupying coveted positions are not at all suitable for these jobs. Many of them cannot even draft a two line letter which is evident from the communications received from the council in the past. Hence, as initiated in the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) all the incompetent, inefficient and corrupt elements should be thrown out of the PM&DC, transferred to some other government departments who should be replaced with efficient, competent and knowledgeable individuals who can restore the image of the Council. All the staff should undergo a refresher course in communication skills, learn how to respect others and write decent letters and in return earn respect for themselves.
While constituting various committees, in case the council cannot find any suitable person from within the council or medical & dental institutions, it should look beyond that and should not hesitate to benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who can help it. There is an immediate need to help improve communication between the PM&DC and all the stake holders. In the recent past we the Editors of Journal of College of Physicians & Surgeons Pakistan, Journal of Pakistan Medical Association and Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences received a letter from the Council to provide them some information in two days failing which it was threatened that these journals will be de-recognized. The PM&DC tin-gods think as if the Editors are sitting idle, have nothing else to do and are waiting their orders to comply with. They must realize that these Editors are busy people and they have too many commitments. Many a times they are travelling within the country or overseas on professional commitments and assignments and expecting them to provide any information within 48 hours is not possible. Even if the PM&DC de-recognizes these journals which are the only one at present which enjoy international recognition, have Impact Factor and are indexed in all the world famous databases like PubMed and Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE) Thompson/Reuter known for Impact Factor, who is going to suffer, not these journals but such a short sighted decision by PM&DC will deprive the Pakistani authors to publish their research work in internationally recognized biomedical journals. These journals attract large number of manuscripts from overseas and they can continue their publication without any problem.
Pakistan Medial & Dental Council has a Committee and also elects a Chairman of this committee for the last many years. However, it has done nothing to help improve the quality and standard of biomedical journals published from Pakistan by way of offering any technical advice, organizing training workshops and courses etc. However, it has introduced a “Jagga Tax” asking the biomedical journals to pay a registration fee of rupees Five Thousand and collects this “Bhatta” through coercion and threats. The new PM&DC administration also needs to look into it and withdraw this “Jagga Tax” as soon as possible. On the contrary the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan has helped some of the journals by providing financial grants as well as organizing training courses. It also has a better assessment and evaluation system for biomedical journals than PM&DC. Pakistan Association of Medical Editors “PAME” is a registered and recognized body of professional medical editors in Pakistan which has been doing a commendable job helping authors, reviewers and editors by organizing seminars, hands on workshops, national and international conferences on Medical Writing, Peer Review, Publication Ethics and Medical Journal publishing for the last many years. PAME will be too glad to assist, help and co-operate with the PM&DC to assure quality and improve standard of the Pakistani biomedical journals. In the past too PAME had approached the PM&DC and offered its assistance. When Prof. S.M. Owais from King Edward Medical University was Chairman of the Journals Committee, he realized the importance and was convinced of the benefits of these collaborative efforts. Hence, a notification was issued by the PM&DC No.PF.12-F-2012 (Journals)233642 on April 25th 2012 making the then President of PAME Dr.Akhtar Sherin as a member of the Journals Committee but unfortunately no meeting of the Journals Committee was held. Later on when Dr. Fatema Jawad became President of PAME, she again wrote to the PM&DC offering PAME’s expertise but there had been no response from the Council till to date. One sincerely hope that better sense will prevail on those concerned and since the Council lacks the competence and expertise in Journalology which has emerged as an important discipline in its own right with numerous sub-specialties, PM&DC will welcome the cooperation from the professional medial editors in general and PAME in particular to help improve the art of medial writing and scientific publishing in Pakistan. PM&DC will also be advised to learn from the Medical Journals Commission appointed by the Ministry of Health, Government of Iran which has professional medical editors as its members. Study the functioning of this Commission which is helping biomedical journals published from Iran offering them technical advice, helping them in starting online editions of the journals, web designing, has provided them software for checking plagiarism, provides them guidance in getting the journals indexed in important data bases like PubMed, PubMed Central, SCIE Thompson/Reuters ISI with the result that a large number of biomedical journals published from Iran has been indexed by these databases improving their visibility and readership tremendously. Only those can take such decisions who have the knowledge, skills and expertise in this area and not those who are themselves strangers in this world of scientific publishing.