By Sushil Kutty
Pakistan is facing a major healthcare crisis. No, Pakistan is in an all-round crisis; health, wealth and whatever else comes to mind. It is like the Almighty has abandoned Pakistan, condemned it to fend for itself. And just across the Wagah, there’s this neighbor apparently doing far better in every which way though both were born the same year with just a day separating Pakistan and India.
Talking of the birth of nations, Pakistan is asking for a surgical strike to return its healthcare system to health. Reports speak of a full-blown healthcare slump. Patients and doctors are both at the end of the tether, hit by shortages of essential medicines, many of them life-saving.
Blame it on the forex reserves, say friends of Pakistan in India, of whom there are plenty; people who are dismissed as “bleeding hearts” by Pakistan-haters, of whom also there are more than plenty. The former are the ones who would like the Government of India to urgently intervene and lift Pakistan out of its multiple crises; most importantly, the healthcare crisis, which if not checked will kill tens of thousands.
Pakistan is not in a position to procure critical meds from abroad. Not just medicines but also the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) required for the production of essential drugs at home. This is where India can be a saviour. Pakistan buys most of its API from China and India. Will the Government of India help the neighbour in distress, the same “fellow” who used to trespass and bomb and kill, almost as if it was a prerogative!
The trouble is the tumultuous relationship in a tumultuous neighbourhood. Both India and Pakistan started more or less on an equal footing with Mahatma Gandhi ensuring that the newly created Pakistan was given its due for the Partition of India. Now, 75 years on, Pakistan could do with Mahatma Gandhi.
The multiple crises have left the Pakistan economy badly mauled. There is a severe shortage of ‘aata’ (wheat flour) and inflation is a sentinel against succour. Pakistan has been staring at starvation even as it owes tonnes of dollars to countries around, from China to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
International financial institutions like the IMF have gone cold on Pakistan. The nuclear-armed country’s debt-load is the size of The Hulk. There’s nothing left to sell after the last donkeys went to China. Now, there is rudderless talk that Pakistan might sell nukes to get out of the morass. Austerity measures have made Pakistan the laughing stock of the world.
So, Pakistan’s healthcare system is crumbling. It cannot import API. Patients are losing hope. Doctors and nurses are losing heart. The country’s Pharmaceutical industry, the domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers, have cut production as patients suffer in hospitals. Critical surgeries are hanging fire.
Last heard, operation theatres have anaesthetics for only two weeks. In the meantime, hearts and kidneys are going weak by the week. Cancer surgeries have been crippled. And hospital staff are on tiptoe worrying about losing their jobs. If ‘Misery’ is a name, it is Pakistan’s for keeps. At least that is how things are looking for now. Pakistan is in a quagmire; stuck in the cleft stick of fate. And YouTube is full of common Pakistanis appealing to India for help; many of the desperate voices asking what was the need for Partition?
This, of course, is desperation. A new set of Pakistanis. They hear and see “India going places” and they’re feeling left behind which they blame it on the wrong choices made by their parents decades ago. These are the aspirational youth of current day Pakistan for whom “Kashmir” comes second/third, not first.
Pakistan’s drug makers have blamed the economic crisis for the healthcare crisis. The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) has asked the Pakistan government to intervene before the healthcare system is consigned to the ICU. But the Pakistan government is a cripple, it cannot take steps!
Meds like Panadol, Insulin, Brufen, Disprin, Calpol, Tegral, Nimesulide, Hepamerz, Buscopan and Rivotril are disappearing from the shelves. This, when there is a ban on imports of medicines. Only the healthy and the wealthy can hope to live through this crisis gripping Pakistan. The government of Pakistan knows Pakistan is stuck in a hole, but won’t ask India to help it out of the hole.
What does the Government of India want? EAM S Jaishankar said this: “Pakistan’s future depends on Pakistan’s actions. Nobody reaches a difficult situation suddenly and without cause. So, it’s for them to find a way out. Our relationship today is not one where we can be relevant directly to that process without cause.”
So, the Modi government wouldn’t step forward on its own. Pakistan cannot be compared with Sri Lanka. The two countries are not the same. For Sri Lanka, “there is still a lot of goodwill in this country”; but for Pakistan “you know what the sentiments in this country are for that country.”
So, whether hospitals and doctors or nurses or patients or drug manufacturers of Pakistan; whether the tens of thousands of Indians who want India to rush to the rescue, things look bleak. And it does not matter whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi swears by ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ or that a Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim, Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi, this will be one surgical strike across the border that will not take place even if it is to save lives. That is because it’s a hard choice to make in an election year; especially when the big one looms. (IPA Service)