WASHINGTON, D.C. – Collaboration between the United States and Pakistan traces its roots back to the late 1940s, when the U.S. was one of the first countries to recognize and welcome an independent Pakistan. From there, they extended assistance and support to establishing key institutions for a new found country.
U.S. supported projects have included the creation of schools, such as the Institute for Business Administration and the Jennah Postgraduate Medical center, and community infrastructure. The U.S. was a major donor in building two damns, Mangla and Tarbela, that soon accounted for 70 percent of the country’s power. After the passage of the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act by the U.S. in October of 2009, more than $3.5 billion worth of support has been delivered to Pakistan. This has focused on energy, economic growth, education and health.
USAID programs encourage good governance and gender equity, with funding for local partners expanding 60 percent of their budget. Access to quality healthcare is urgently needed in Pakistan, especially for mothers and young children. USAID has been diligently working with both the public and private sectors to improve basic healthcare. Promoting family planning and strengthening healthcare education are some of their primary goals.
A program supported by USAID has started to provide healthcare for thousands of Pakistanis via electronic access. Through an online computer, patients can receive care from a hospital miles away. This new technology, called “Telemedicine,” was developed in the 1980s to treat heart patients via telephone lines. It was then further developed and after its introduction in India in 2007 by Partap Chauhan, its usage has been far-reaching.
Holy Family Hospital, located Rawalpindi, gives consultations to small health clinics across all of Pakistan. “This technology lets us reach out to the people previously without access to an ordinary doctor, much less a hospital specialist. It represents a tremendous improvement in their quality of life,” said Dr. Asif Zafar Malik, Holy Family’s director for telemedicine.
In a country where the ratio of patients to doctors is about 1,400 to 1, telemedicine carries enormous promise. Holy Family has conducted more than 2,000 telemedicine consultations and has trained over 100 doctors and nurses who have gone forward to set up telemedicine centers at other hospitals.
“Our collaboration with USAID [has]led to new programs [and]really helped us demonstrate to patients and policy makers alike that [telemedicine]is the way to go,” said Dr. Zafar.
With Holy Family being a beacon of the possibilities of U.S. funded programs in Pakistan, it is essential that assistance continue to move forward. The State Department has requested US$1.16 billion in funding for Pakistan for the 2014 budget. While it has yet to be approved by Congress, it hopes to allocate $857 million to civilian assistance and $305 million to security assistance. A figure so large seems daunting to many, however, when healthcare is not a right, but a privilege given to only the wealthy, changes must be realized.
The Human Rights’ Commission of Pakistan indicates that Pakistan ranked sixth among the 22 high-risk tuberculosis countries. About 1.6 million cases of malaria occur here annually. And 1 in 9 women in Pakistan are likely to develop breast cancer, resulting in 40,000 deaths annually. Of the $22 spent per person annually on health, $14 is out of pocket, with only $8 being contributed by the government. And amongst immunizing children under the age of 5 there is less than a 50 percent coverage level.
Where 35 to 45 percent of deaths in district hospitals occur to unavailability of health services, funding should no longer be a question.
– Chloe Nevitt