Access to good quality healthcare is an issue that is faced worldwide. While health is the basic right of every human being, it is seldom a given. Many people have to face hardships and ordeals in order to gain healthcare, and that is not how it should be. In this context, the fact that Pakistan is hosting the 64th Session of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean beginning on October 9 in Islamabad is to be lauded, for Pakistan has its own concerns regarding health.
Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination led by Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar is at the forefront of this event and the minister has said that this shows Pakistan’s increasing role as a major player in global health. Delegates and experts from many regions of the world will be gathering in Islamabad to take decisions on issues of regional character, including stopping the spread of disease, fighting epidemics, social protection, and other such issues.
As WHO’s governing body at the regional level, the Regional Committee consists of representatives of 22 countries in WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Region. WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Mahmoud Fikri and top global health experts are participating in the high profile event. Ministers of health and their representatives will discuss important public health priorities for countries of the region.
Universal health coverage should be available to everyone; the health of the people should not be taken lightly. People suffer many indignities in order to find health care, including having to sell off their properties and take on huge loans in order to afford private medical care. This should not be the case; the government should provide free of cost care to all deserving and underprivileged. This will also do away with the over-reliance on private practices and menace of private medical mafia.
At this event, focus will be placed on five priority areas of public health—emergencies and health security, communicable diseases, noncommunicable diseases, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health, and health system strengthening—which align with the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ensuring progress in moving towards universal health coverage.
The Regional Committee will be requested to endorse a proposed regional framework for action on cancer prevention and control. In WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean region, many cases of cancer are diagnosed at a late stage when treatments are less effective, which results in many unnecessary deaths. The proposed framework will assist countries to decide which priority interventions to implement for cancer prevention and control, according to their national situation. Cancer in Pakistan is increasing day by day and we certainly need to be aware of all our options.
Climate change is another concern for Pakistan, for it is one of the hardest hit countries in this regard, so the fact that the Regional Committee will also be invited to endorse a proposed updated framework for action on climate change and health is especially important to Pakistan. Rising global temperatures and the incidence of extreme weather conditions pose serious, yet preventable, effects on human health, and WHO has called for urgent global action to protect health from climate-related risks.
The SDGs—which seek to achieve sustainable global economic—social and environmental development by 2030, will not be realised without investment in adolescent health. The adolescent mortality rate in low-income and middle-income countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region is the second-highest in the world. Member states will be urged to translate the commitments made in the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent Health 2016–2030 into actions by developing and implementing national strategic plans for adolescent health.
As bacteria and virus become resistant to medicines, they become a threat to populations, and more research and data is needed in this area. Thus, on the agenda is antimicrobial resistance, which has emerged as a major public health problem that threatens the advances of modern medicine.
During the Regional Committee meeting, WHO will report 2016 progress to the member states in the areas of polio eradication, improving health and the environment, implementation of the International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), implementation of the regional malaria action plan, and many others. Member states will also consider endorsement of resolutions and decisions for implementation of programmes in their respective countries to advance the regional public health agenda and overall improve the health of the people.
Pakistan is a developing country, but lags behind other countries when it comes to health and healthcare. However, that does not mean that we, as a society, cannot invest in health and improve ourselves by devoting to science and medicine. By hosting such events and inviting global leaders on health, we can learn much and, hopefully, establish lasting relationships that will lead to a better understanding of health concerns. There has to be unity among nations because, in order to fight disease and pestilence, we need to cooperate with each other.
Yaseen, Tasneem. Pakistan hosts WHO’s event on health reflecting country’s growing role globally. Pakistan Today, October 7, 2017.