Pakistan cannot afford the luxury of Robotic Surgery systems ignoring Primary Healthcare

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KARACHI: The recent controversy regarding the multibillion rupees Robotic Surgery units’ tender has once again highlighted how the scarce financial allocations for health sector are misused. If we wish to reduce the burden of diseases and rush at public healthcare facilities, we need to give priority to primary health care, prevention of diseases and health promotion rather than buying these expensive toys for public hospitals.

All the successive governments have ignored primary healthcare with the result that our health indicators as compared to other countries in the region like Iran and Sri Lanka are extremely disappointing. We have the highest maternal morality and infant mortality rates, we have failed to control communicable diseases and now even Non-communicable diseases including diabetes prevalence is increasing. This is the direct result of Mafias which rule this country. It is the greedy politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and health planners and equally corrupt healthcare professionals who join this mafia to facilitate their loot and plunder of national resources.

Caretaker Health Minister of Sindh Dr. Saad Khalid Niaz an honest upright man had taken the correct decision to cancel the tender for Robotic Surgery systems but perhaps he was not aware how powerful this mafia is who has close relationship with all those in the power corridors. Public healthcare facilities have become a graveyard of electro medical equipment, instruments for lack of proper maintenance and repairs as those who control the finances are always more interested in buildings and purchase of costly equipment’s rather than repair and maintenance since it ensures more commission and kickbacks for everyone from politicians to health bureaucrats, planners and healthcare professionals who become members of this mafia group.

Ideally the government should have appointed a committee to investigate how much money was spent on the purchase of Robotic Surgery unit earlier installed at Qatar Hospital, for how long it was in operation, how many procedures were performed on it at what cost? Finally, for how many years it is now non-operational and reasons for non-functioning. It would have helped the authorities to take rational decision but alas it was not done. It makes no difference even if the tender for the Robotic surgery units was approved by an elected government. Ensuring judicious use of health allocations should be the prime objective.

It is unfortunate to read all the allegations levelled against the caretaker Health Minister. He cannot improve health services in a short time without any finances. One has to make short term and long term plans and the caretakers are expected to at least set the right directions if they can and are allowed to function. While levelling allegations against the health minister, it would have been much better if the press release had also stated what is the Health Minister’s personal agenda which he wishes to pursue? Whatever is the outcome of this controversy, at least the caretaker health minister has highlighted the working of the Mafia Groups in health sector. People like him are considered the conscience of the medical profession who has the courage to point out such irregularities and misuse of scarce resources available. These are the reasons why we have failed to improve primary healthcare and make any headway in ensuring quality healthcare.

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