KANDAHAR CITY (Pajhwok): Despite security, financial and professional staff shortage problems, the Ministry of Public Health has affirmed its commitment to offering the people better services and bringing a positive change to their lives.
During a recent visit to the restive southern province of Kandahar, Minister of Public Health Dr. Firozuddin Firoz held out the promise to improve the overall performance of the ministry by addressing the different challenges it is faced with.
A number of issues came up for discussion during a meeting at the governor’s house in Kandahar City. Governor Dr. Humayun Azizi Public Health Director Dr. Abdul Qayyum Pukhla, private sector representatives and other officials were in attendance.
Pukhla informed participants that Kandahar’s population had recently increased to 2.5 million individuals. There is only one 350 beds government-run hospital and 46 health clinics in the province, where a dozen private medical facilities are also operational.
But these facilities are far from adequate to meet the needs of the people, according to the director, who recalled the Mirwais Hospital in 1978-79 to provide health services only to Kandahar residents. But at the moment, it has to meet the needs of about 6.8 million people living in the five southern provinces.
Given its huge catchment area, the hospital is faced with immense problems in terms of space and staff strength. There is one clinic each in several populated districts, but their complicated geographical locations do not allow all inhabitants to have access to these facilities.
The official said there was no health clinic in Registan and Shorabak districts, whose residents had to encounter serious trouble taking their patients to other areas.
“Across the province, we have 496 doctors, nurses, midwives and other medics. Surprisingly enough, in Kandahar, we have only three lady doctors, who can in no way provide health cover to the entire provincial population,” the director remarked.
Pukhla suggested a strategic plan for enhancing the number of female students in medical universities to overcome the shortage of lady doctors in the province.
These difficulties notwithstanding, the available health personnel had been able to treat 1342000 patients and operate upon another 11518 people, he said, calling polio a serious public health hazard.
Although no polio case has been detected this year, existence of the crippling virus cannot be ruled out in Kandahar, whose dwellers frequently visit Pakistan. Polio cases have increased in the neighbouring country in recent years.
“For Kandahar, 2011 was the worst year when 62 polio cases were recorded in the conflict-hit southern zone. Thirty-five children with polio were found only in Kandahar. But the province remained polio-free in 2012 and 2013 due to efforts by the authorities concerned.
“However, in 2014, 13 polio cases surfaced in Kandahar,” he said, claiming the virus had been transferred from Pakistan. He underlined the need for effective and timely measures to check the cross-border transfer of the virus.
Pukhla hailed private hospitals as a positive addition to government-run facilities, acknowledging they were playing a good role in the medical treatment of the sick. But he hastened to confirm receiving complaints about the standards of private medical facilities.
He went on to note that medicine imports and sales in the province, which had a handful of pharmacists, were not entirely legal. In many instances, he said, medicines were not stocked in standard stores — something that damaged their quality.
Last year, the Public Health Department seized and torched 110 tonnes of substandard medicines, but the issues is yet to be fully addressed. He said there was only one 50-bed hospital for the special people in the province, which needed more such facilities.
Delays in provision of development funds, an inadequate general budget and a shortage of medics were cited as major problems for the department. Proper buildings could not be constructed for 13 district clinics due to insecurity in recent years.
Now that the security situation has improved, the ministry should focus on constructing the buildings on a priority basis. Similarly, some gun-wielding strongmen are masquerading as doctors at health clinics. A list of these people has been submitted to the governor’s office.
World Health Organisation (WHO) representative Recardo renewed the agency’s continued commitment to cooperation with Afghanistan in the area of vaccination. The official called Afghanistan and Pakistan the only countries, where the polio virus still exited.
Ten percent of Kandahar children were left out of vaccination campaigns, he said, adding they were doing their bit to ensure polio drops were administered to all kids.
Public Health Minister Dr. Firoz praised the department’s staff for offering residents services despite under challenging circumstances. Security, financial and staff shortage issues did not mean that people would have no access to health services, he commented, promising a marked improvement in medical coverage.
“We are duty-bound to provide people with medical facilities even in difficult situations,” the minister said, acknowledging that 46 health clinics were no enough to deal with the present challenges. He vowed to increase the number of clinics, doctors and medics.
The government would step up support for the private sector to enhance the quality of its services, the minister pledged. Availability of satisfactory health services at home would obviate the need for Afghans going abroad for medical treatment.
Most of medical supplies reach Kandahar before being transported to other parts of the country. Dr. Firoz called for the import of quality medicines and stocking them in standard stores.
He invited businessmen to set up in Kandahar City a market where medicine could be stored in a better way. The government would take steps to contain corruption in the import of drugs, the minister assured, urging an end to substandard imports.
Governor Azizi told the meeting that 33 percent of Kandaharis had medical coverage. He demanded the expansion of health clinics and proper buildings for them at the district level.
He promised the municipality would allot a land plot to pharmacists for the construction of the proposed market in the city and asked them to invest in the project. The initiative would help ensure the availability of standard medicine, the governor concluded.