With the country often affected by the perils of turmoil and terrorism, the government’s priorities lie in the sectors of defence and provision of infrastructure - neglecting healthcare. Admitting its failure in making doctors serve the health facilities in rural areas, the government has now announced the MBBS degree to be conditional, with serving Basic Health Units for a certain period of time. The step made public by Parliamentary Secretary for Health Khawaja Imran Nazeer at the Punjab Assembly, was to cater to the abysmal healthcare being currently offered in the rural areas. He made it clear that they had exhausted all other measures to appoint doctors at Basic Health Units (BHU’s) – but they refused to go outside Lahore. With the MBBS degree being conditional on a promise to serve in rural areas, perhaps more doctors, ones that have promised to work in underprivileged areas, might actually pull through.

The medical community, particularly the Young Doctors’ Association has resisted this action citing unavailability of accommodation. However, the government had previously as well, offered a hefty financial incentive of Rs50,000 to Rs150,000 (in accordance with the distance between the BHU and the district headquarters). This offer too was rejected. A BHU is often the only available healthcare centre for up to 25,000 people in a region, and provides integral services that include basic medical and surgical care, and treatment for serious diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. However, with a serious shortage of doctors, these BHUs are of no use to the public.

Simple steps can vastly reduce the suffering of these patients and their families. The real question however, is whether a crippled and ailing population will benefit more from an increased defence budget, or a widely accessible healthcare system. Unless attention is paid to the most basic human needs, no amount of mass funding will alleviate the suffering and struggle of the poor in the country.