Proceeding from the reports of a famine in Thar earlier this year, an inquiry commission was formed which has released its findings. The conclusions state that contrary to popular belief, starvation was not the cause of the 230 deaths in Thar this year. Instead, the onus of responsibility has been placed squarely on the shoulders of the Sindh Health Department, and on the National Disaster Management Authority for mishandling an annual, recurring drought. It is time to be clear on the fact that by order of its climate and location, Thar has been a historically neglected area. It is a poverty stricken, desert population that is politically ignored and enormously under represented. As a result, its people marginally subsist along the sidelines, like a parallel community of non-citizens, their children dying year after year from malnutrition and treatable diseases.
One look at the Sindh Health Department and there is no doubt that its own disorganisation, corruption and internal strife is keeping it busier than the job it needs to be doing. The bifurcation of the health department earlier this year into primary and secondary healthcare departments was a hugely controversial move, viewed by the party in charge of the Sindh health department, the MQM, as an administrative and budgeting blunder. Primary healthcare, which is the department that should be vigilant of basic health issues like nutritional deficiencies and basic child care services lost even more of its scant resources to the “more serious” secondary healthcare department. But it is the first level of contact between families and the health care system, and most basic diseases that emerge from malnutrition should be caught out at the primary level before immune systems are compromised. Secondly, hospital posts in these areas must be made more attractive to doctors and nurses, through awareness drives, incentives and campaigns in the short term, and better infrastructural development and quality of life in the long run.
Perhaps the last thing the Sindh Health Department needed at the moment was more politicisation. However, with the MQM quitting the Sindh government coalition with the PPP, the department is thrown into chaos once more. The people of Thar, and those of rural Sindh, will not get the respite they need, it seems, as Pakistan is embroiled in controversy after controversy without a thought to the people who pay for the consequences; sometimes with their lives.