Second Annual Public Health Conference, Islamabad, Pakistan, 2011

December 2, 2011 at 6:48 pm (Uncategorized)


To be in the midst of mustachioed, balding, pot-bellied old geezers dressed with poor taste and streaming with bio statistical/epidemiological jargon must be something. 

And indeed it was. It was a glimpse into the moral pygmy we all refer to as ‘Pakistan’s Public Health Sector’- particularly at the government level.

I went there with the object of presenting a research with my sister and some of our friends, so I only got to attend a few plenaries and hear a few speakers.

The first speaker, someone from the World Health Organization, called for a policy change. ‘Money matters’ was the theme of his talk.

The second speaker, someone who founded an NGO think-tank, quashed such a proposition. She remarked that our health system was great, there was no need for policy changes, but we have to conquer a few demons such as a lack of accountability (especially when it comes to the money that is originally for the poor, which is pocketed by our country’s lily-livered saviours- public health officials). This woman was well-spoken to some extent (quote: ‘Money matters, but how you use it matters more’), but seemed naive/untruthful when she said that our health policies and system were excellent. If they were excellent, our country would not be amongst the few countries in the world where Polio still exists.

The third speaker was a director of a Health and Development Institute based in England who did not even have data for Pakistan. I may not be doing her lecture justice, but I do not care- I shall skip talking about her human resources rant.

There was one man who earned some of my respect there. He is the Vice Chancellor of a University in Islamabad, who it is a pleasure to quote: ‘Pakistan is not a poor country, but it is a poorly-governed country- and that is so in every sector; especially the health sector’. This was round about what the grey-bearded man uttered, to my triumphant satisfaction. I sound like I like to hear my country being dissed- but really, what I like to hear is the truth.

In the end, he wished us an ‘academically truthful conference‘. What more did I want to hear to crown my delight? I got up, smiling, feeling inspired. Despite hearing some ‘respectable’ looking public health man in the conference break announce to his comrades that all the ‘carousers’ in the house were requested to come out into a corner and enjoy some smokes. Here’s policy merry-making for you.

So when my community medicine teacher asks my group ‘which of you would like to go into public health?’, I sneer to myself and allow someone else to raise their hand up. I allow someone else to take a seat next to the public health mafia, I allow someone else to deal with their kind of liver.

(A point to note- I do not say that every one in Public Health is a greedy, old, eccentric money-sucker. I merely give my opinion on some of them who I chanced to listen to/see/meet/hear about.)

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