LAHORE:Over the years, Punjab, the most populous province of the country (over 127.4 million population), has been faced with enormous challenges in the healthcare sector.
Though the province boasts a substantial number of healthcare facilities, including tehsil-level and district-level hospitals, the existing infrastructure falls short of meeting the healthcare needs of the growing population.
Talking to reporter regarding Punjab's healthcare system, health experts have brought into the limelight various issues pertaining to the healthcare sector of the province. The experts said that shortages in medical supplies, staff, and equipment had affected common people.
They have also highlighted the initiatives taken by the government to address the challenges and improve the quality of healthcare services.
Medical experts in Punjab have been vocal about the dire shortages of essential medical resources. Former President of the Pakistan Pediatricians Association (PPA) Punjab, Dr Asif Kaleem Sheikh, said that with 542 beds available for every one million people in Punjab public sector hospitals are often overcrowded, forcing two patients to share a single bed.
He said that patients frequently seek medical attention when their conditions have already deteriorated significantly, leading to complications that could have been avoided with early intervention.
"Delays in surgical procedures have become distressingly common in the hospitals due to unavailability of basic facilities," he added.
The Punjab Department of Primary and Secondary Healthcare (P&SHD) reports a daily influx of 4,000 to 5,000 patients in government hospitals and clinics, overwhelming the already limited capacity. Despite a 25 percent population growth over the past 12 years, the expansion of the hospital network has lagged at only 18 percent. This shortage, compounded by insufficient government funding, results in delays in patient care.
Dr Salman Kazmi, General Secretary of the Pakistan Young Doctors Association, underscores the detrimental effects of the funding shortage on healthcare quality. The lack of funds leads to a scarcity of crucial medical supplies, medicines, and equipment, seriously compromising the quality of healthcare provided by government hospitals, adding that patients often bear the brunt of this inadequacy, facing prolonged treatment delays and suboptimal care.
Despite these challenges, the caretaker provincial government of Punjab has expressed a commitment to improving the healthcare sector. Punjab Chief Minister Syed Mohsin Naqvi personally involves himself in hospital oversight to ensure their requirements are met.
Provincial Secretary of Health, Ali Jan Khan, said, "Both dedicated departments, the Punjab Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department and the Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Department, are actively working on various aspects of healthcare management and enhancement."
He said that efforts to enhance the healthcare sector encompass hospital gradation, increased recruitment of doctors, and expanding the scope of social security hospitals to alleviate the burden on public sector hospitals.
He informed, "Plans are also underway to establish 22 additional social security hospitals, relocate existing hospitals to more suitable facilities, and equip major hospitals with state-of-the-art biomedical machines and medical equipment."
"In addition, major teaching hospitals in Punjab are set to offer a range of essential medicines, and health councils will be established to monitor service provision closely," he added.
Former President of the Pakistan Medical Association, Dr Izhar Chaudhry said, "Punjab faces multifaceted challenges that have created a complex web of issues affecting both the availability and quality of healthcare services."
To address these challenges effectively, he said it was crucial to understand the root causes; adding the province has experienced a substantial population increase over the years, and this growth has strained existing healthcare facilities, making it difficult to cater to the needs.
He said, "Public sector hospitals are overcrowded, with patients often sharing beds due to the limited number of available resources, and this overcrowding not only compromises patient comfort but also increases the risk of cross-infections."
He said, "Patients frequently seek medical attention only when their conditions have deteriorated significantly."
"This delay in seeking care leads to more complex and expensive treatments, putting additional strain on the healthcare system," he added.
Dr Tariq Shaheen, Assistant Professor at Jinnah Hospital, said, "The government of Punjab has recognized these challenges and was actively working to address them."
He said that the existing hospitals were being upgraded to provide better facilities and services to patients, which includes the expansion of infrastructure and modern medical equipment.
He said that recently Health Minister Dr Javed Akram has disclosed, "A plan to establish 22 additional social security hospitals that will expand the capacity to serve patients, particularly in underserved areas."
"Major hospitals in Punjab are set to receive advanced biomedical machines and medical equipment to enhance diagnostic and treatment capabilities," he added.
Dr Shaheen said, "According to the government plan, teaching hospitals will provide essential medicines, and health councils will be established to monitor and improve service provision."