ISLAMABAD: The opening ceremony of the two-day conference on Family Medicine entitled “Building Primary Care Capacity: Pakistan’s Critical Need,” was recently organized by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in collaboration with the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) and the Rawalpindi Medical University (RMU) at RMU’s main campus.
Dr Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health, Chairman, Higher Education Commission (HEC), Tariq Banuri, President, Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA), Dr Naheed Usmani, Prime Minister’s Healthcare Task Vision on Family Medicine, Dr Faisal Sultan, Vice-Chancellor, RMU, Prof Muhammad Umar , Chairman, APPNA-MERIT, Dr Shahid Rafique were invited in the event. The objective of the conference was to identify actionable items needed to enhance life expectancy and health outcomes in the country. These include fostering of training programs and policies for the comprehensive development of Family Medicine, investing in public health and health systems, and initiating a program for training nurses. The conference was also consistent with the steps taken recently by the HEC to enhance the quality and relevance of the system of education in the country.
While addressing the audience Zafar told that Pakistan needed to enhance primary healthcare to improve its poor health statistics. He stated that there were, on average, only three Family Physicians to cater to the needs of about 10,000 people. He said the numbers need to be enhanced, and the ‘bulk of General Practitioners’ need additional training and incentives. He stressed the need for measures to promote Family Medicine by faculty development, medicine development, policy reform, and targeted research.
“It is hard for the poor to pay for healthcare services at private hospitals. Pakistan is unfortunately near the top of the list of countries with negative health indications.” Mirza emphasized that efforts were needed to improve the quality of healthcare facilities at all levels. He regretted the unnecessarily high rate of injections administered.
Mirza said that the Prime Minister’s vision for universal health coverage has three major components. “Every citizen must have access to health services; the government should pay the expenses on behalf of those who are unable to pay; and, the quality of services should be enhanced,” he told.
Zafar reiterated that the government’s Health Reforms Agenda was aimed at ensuring the vision of Universal Health Coverage in order to deliver essential health services to people. He also noted that the government, through the Pakistan Health Diaspora Initiative, Yaraan-e-Watan, was committed to providing overseas Pakistani doctors a platform to contribute to the country’s health sector.
“This initiative is meant to channelize their contributions. I greatly appreciate the initiatives taken by expatriate Pakistani doctors. I hope the conference will come up with valuable, actionable items to promote Family Medicine and resolve the various healthcare issues prevalent in Pakistan,” Zafar told.
In his remarks, Tariq Banuri said that the HEC was committed to ensuring the quality of medical education while enhancing access. Highlighting the importance of the conference, the Chairman said, “There is a need for an integrated approach towards investing in the healthcare system, including family health as well as tertiary care in addition to environmental health, community health, and nursing. The healthcare system needs to reach the people, putting the people first instead of merely infrastructural growth.”
Addressing the ceremony, Dr Naheed Usmani, stressed the importance of healthcare for the achievement of health-related goals. “For this, Pakistan needs to train primary healthcare through a Family Medicine residency module and standard examinations,” she told.
Dr Naheed pointed to Pakistan’s low health indicators, which were worse than other South Asian countries. “Life expectancy in men is 66, and in women 67 years, while the mortality rate under five is 69 by 1000, and the maternity mortality rate is 140 by 100,000. Pakistan spends only 2.7% of its GDP on the health sector,” she told.
Dr Usmani stressed the need for effective childcare medical facilities to decrease the child mortality rate and the promotion of public education on communicable diseases.
Naheed said that the APPNA has always been an active partner and supportive of initiatives to improve health outcomes as well as health education and research, and this conference builds upon this history of collaboration.
Shedding light on the PM’s Healthcare Task Vision on Family Medicine, Dr Faisal Sultan, the keynote speaker of the conference, said that Family Medicine required quality health care, wherein the curative and preventive health care was integrated. He underlined the importance of effective local governance to develop a proper Family Medicine framework, monitor its functionality, and administer its needs. There should be resource allocation flexibility to cater to local needs. He said Pakistan was a nurse-short country, so the country needs steps for enhancing the number of nurses as per the country’s requirements. “There is a need for a million nurses, while Pakistan has only 100,000 nurses. We need to come out of the prism of our personal gains.”
Prof Muhammad Umar said that the RMU was the fastest-growing medical university of Pakistan, adding that the RMU had its humble beginning as the Rawalpindi Medical College in 1974 and earned the status of a university in 2017. He said the RMU was striving to achieve its goals systematically in line with its 15 years strategic vision, i.e., the RMU Vision 2033.
Earlier in his opening remarks, Dr Shahid Rafique, expressed his gratitude to all the stakeholders for making the first-ever conference happen on such an important subject.
The conference was expected to provide a strong basis for the development of Family Medicine, which will ultimately improve healthcare for all Pakistanis.