Ongoing refugee crisis in Pakistan overwhelms health system

The AP/Washington Post examines how the millions of Pakistani refugees fleeing from the army's offensive against the Taliban in the northwest of the country are overwhelming the country's health care system. "The crisis has exhausted doctors, used up limited supplies of medicines and buried hospitals in a mountain of red tape as they try to get money and medicine for the crisis" pushing the entire health system to the brink of collapse, the AP/Washington Post writes.

"[E]very smaller hospital is overloaded with displaced people and our district hospital in Mardan is collapsing," said Arshad Khan, who the AP/Washington Post writes is "the health ministry's top man in Mardan, which is the epicenter of the refugee onslaught because it borders the battlezone."

Despite recent government action to provide "one million rupees ($12,500) for medicine for the refugees … Khan says it will be months before the refugees see any because of bureaucratic hurdles attached to the money," according to the AP/Washington Post. While "Khan says international charities have provided medicines and field hospitals in refugee camps … only about 20 percent of the 2 million refugees are in camps. The rest are scattered throughout the frontier province, as well as other provinces in Pakistan," the AP/Washington Post writes

Even before the refugee crisis, health was not a national priority, said Khan. According to the AP/Washington Post, Pakistan is expected to spend $300 million on health care next year, compared to $3.65 billion on defense. "There are only 12 doctors to every 10,000 people in Pakistan and 10 hospital beds to every 10,000 people," according to the WHO, compared to "22 doctors and more than 30 hospital beds in the United States," write the AP/Washington Post (Gannon, AP/Washington Post, 6/6).

The Los Angeles Times explores how the people's support of the military offensive against the Taliban hinges on how the government "manages the massive humanitarian crisis created by the war's displacement of an estimated 3 million Pakistanis." According to the Los Angeles Times, "About 200,000 of the displaced people, nearly all ethnic Pashtuns, are crammed into sprawling tent camps in Mardan and elsewhere in the country … At Sheikh Yaseen, more than 7,600 people live in 1,485 tents." The article examines the conditions of the refugee camps, described as "sweltering heat in cramped tent cities with little sanitation and bare-bones health care" (Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times, 6/7).

Health officials are concerned about the insufficient numbers of female doctors needed to help treat the health conditions of Pakistani refugees, International News reports. About 90 percent of female patients in refugee camps avoid examination by male doctors, said Shafiq Sarwar, chairman of Rawalpindi Medical College and Allied Hospitals task force on medical assistance to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in NWFP . "We can not convince them, the female IDPs, to get examined by male doctors. The only thing we can do is to arrange female doctors for them," Sarwar said (Qasim, International News, 6/6).

Kaisernetwork.orgThis article is republished with kind permission from our friends at The Kaiser Family Foundation. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery of in-depth coverage of health policy developments, debates and discussions. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Copyright 2009 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.


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