Here’s something interesting that happened yesterday. I was going about my routine Tuesday afternoon work when I was interrupted by a lady who walked into my office. She had a cute 4 year old boy by her side. The lady introduced herself, telling me she was the daughter of a maid who used to work at our house a long time ago. As she spoke I could not help but notice the little boy, Rehman was his name, as he had already started fiddling with a pen that had been sitting on my desk. As my attention shifted back to the mother, she handed me a prescription for Rehman. They had been to a hospital just a few hours earlier, and the boy had been diagnosed with an inguinal hernia. The mother was in despair because the people at the hospital had deemed the hernia repair a routine procedure, and had asked his mother to get registered for the waiting list for elective surgeries. Guess how long that waiting list is. Rehman is scheduled for surgery some time in 2016!
It troubles me that a child would have to wait four years to get a minor surgical procedure. Rehman’s condition is not an emergency on most days. He is perfectly fine most of the time, but when he runs around and plays with his friends, the hernia starts to hurt. In fact the last time it hurt so much that the little boy nearly passed out.
It is plain for all to see that health care facilities in our society are overwhelmed. As a nation we simply do not make health care a priority. We spend less than 3% of our GDP on health. While the government has set up some excellent facilities and centers of excellence, there is simply not enough capacity in the system to cater to all of our needs. No one should have to wait four years to get a minor procedure. The alternative is for patients to seek health care in private facilities. In fact more than 70% of health care in Pakistan is now provided by the private sector. That however does not mean that all private health care facilities provide good service. In fact, there is a large chunk of private health care facilities that provides very poor quality care. While the child may not have to wait for surgery in such a facility, he may develop infection afterwards.
We could dwell for a long time over the pros and cons of the various healthcare solutions. We could talk about universal healthcare and we would talk about private versus public care. But this post is not about numbers and pointing fingers. This post is about a boy who needs surgery. A small, 15 minute procedure and he will no longer be afraid to run or climb a tree.
I do not have the solution to the larger health care crisis. I don’t know how or when we will be able to provide reasonable care to all who need it. But I do know people, and I can call in a couple of favors. Rehman is scheduled for surgery tomorrow morning. We will figure out the rest later.