Consider two case studies:

Oxford University describes Dementia as: A chronic or persistent disorder of the mental processes caused by brain disease or injury and marked by memory disorders, personality changes and impaired reasoning. In other words, a patient of Dementia faces a perpetually distorted and altering reality. Depending on the severity of the condition, every day becomes a new reality. In most cases, the patients do tend to remember, even if faintly, distant memories: names, stories, relationships etc. However, they fail to contextualize them in terms of recent personal history, obstructed by the void created by the memory disorders caused by the disease. Imagine waking up, unable to connect the dots to what appears to be one’s life. Imagine being suffocated with the painful silence of aloofness that these patients have to bear with. Imagine now finding people and places that make perfect sense in line with what you remember. Imagine the relief that comes with familiarity.

De Hogeweyk is a model village in the Netherlands that seeks to do just that for its residents, all of whom are patients of severe Dementia. Its precinct is lined with houses that the residents call their homes, all of which have been designed specifically to cater to the preferences that the residents remember. The four-acre complex is also home to a well-stacked supermarket, a theatre and a restaurant. The residents however, do not live here alone. The village is also home to many young men and women who work in its different buildings. Donning work-wear, these men and women serve the patients in line with their respective jobs. But there is a secret that the patients are not aware of or, even if they were, have forgotten about. The secret is this: these men and women are actually nurses who monitor their health 24 hours.

The concept of this village is special in more than one way. For starters, the resident-patient never really feels like a patient. Besides the apparent lack of hospital staff, the village allows the residents to live their lives as normal human beings who enjoy their preferred daily activities and indulgences. The residents go to shop, watch movies and get haircuts; all of which are free. More importantly however, the most fascinating thing about the model village is that its staff has been trained to play the role that the residents find comfort in. If the resident, for example, insists that a certain staff member is a person the resident knew in the past, the staff will oblige and become part of this surreal reality. The resident finds the comfort of familiarity and hence does not feel alone. S/he lives a normal day and sleeps with the relief of a comprehendible present and a ‘foreseeable’ future. All said and done, S/he enjoys the delicacy of a soothed mental health besides having their physical health taken care of by watchful trained staff of the village.

The project, which has been replicated in other countries as well, was almost entirely funded by the government which itself had been generously endowed with financial reserves derived by the tax-keen dutch population. The fact that this project was allowed to be funded by the populace speaks a lot about the the priorities of the people and their leadership. The preference to invest in the comfort of individuals who no longer contribute to the economy shows the value a state keeps for human life. Only a socially evolved society can be expected to find mere ‘smiles’, especially of those who can’t even appreciate the endeavor, worth investing in.

Case Study 2:

Mohamed Bouazizi is a name everyone recognizes. Those who don’t, need to procrastinate.

A street vendor who immolated himself in Sidi Bouzid triggered what is now termed as the Arab Spring, a revolution that was unprecedented in context to the historical disregard shown by the people of these countries in face of political injustice and discrimination. The compatriot were often termed accomplice to the tyranny of their dictators for not reacting to sham referendums and senseless policies. They were said to be dead. They weren’t. If anything, they were slumbering and Mohammad Bouazizi woke them. True, there was agitation and frustration that preceded the immolation but no one took any action. However, Bouazizi’s action shocked those who had given in to their fates. A system that forced one to take one’s life out of mere desperation was faulted and had to be replaced. A life was worth a lot more than autocratic injunctions and red-tapism. Life was hope and everyone deserved to hope. The system that showed disregard to this right had to go away. And it went.

The two case studies are not unique. There have been many instances in the world of today when a considerable monetary expenditure and infrastructure has been utilized to help animals stuck in problems of their own making. In these countries, it makes perfect sense to value the life of animals as much as, if not more than, humans. This too shows a high degree of social evolution. Such societies recognize that every life is valuable and needs to be preserved. Hence, it is understandable that these societies are most hurt at the loss of lives. The death of a single human being results in a societal outpouring of grief and disgust. The government machinery steps into action and targets the cause and the perpetuators which led to the loss of that particular life.

Let us come to Pakistan now. There is no count of dementia patients in Pakistan, a fact admitted by the president of Pakistan Society of Neurology. This alone is suffice to understand the seriousness of the state in the treatment of patients with psychological diseases. Pakistan has lost, according to one count, more than 56,000 lives to the demon of terrorism and yet, even today, the identity of the said demon and the rationale to its actions is debated upon by the hoi poloi. Pakistan slept through the 2013 attacks that killed 200 Hazaras and around 100 christians. Now 147 dead of the Peshawar School Attack seem to have done what Bouazizi did; it has woken us up. Only time will tell if we remain awake now. All said and done, we are still far away from the level of social evolution which has translated into the above case studies. We have a very long way to go and we need to start walking if we ever hope to find ourselves somewhere atop the evolutionary chain.

The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based in Islamabad