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Healthcare and CPEC

The Silk Road Economic Belt should complement the development of Gwadar port and its supporting infrastructure instead of working against it
Dr Nazia Mumtaz

FEBRUARY 25, 2018

Pakistan has two international deep-sea ports namely Karachi Port and Port Qasim. Karachi Port has physical limitations that have confined its expansion. On the other hand, Port Qasim has ample space for growth and development, however, on account of its up-stream location involves considerably higher turnaround time for ships. Hence the need arose for developing a third deep water port at Gwadar. The length of the Silk and Economic Belt should complement the development of Gwadar port and its supporting infrastructure instead of working against it. A Pakistan China Health Corridor (CPHC) can become an integral segment of the Pakistan China Economic Corridor (CPEC) consisting of but not restricted to hospitals and advanced medical training. As a precursor the Pak China friendship hospital at Gwadar has incidentally been planned with a provision of USD 100 million. The Red Cross Society of China has already constructed an emergency hospital for making health facilities available to Chinese entrepreneurs, technical staff and local people numbering around 80,000 in the port city of Gwadar. .

Role model lacks in adequate healthcare: The province of Punjab comprises almost 53 percent of the population of Pakistan yet access to health care services remains inadequate because of insufficient competent human resources, lack of integration of health information system and regulatory mechanisms. The Punjab government allocated Rs 111 billion for the health sector for the financial year 2017-18 an increase of 58 percent, which is not sufficient to provide quality healthcare.

Geographic Information System (GIS) is an important and specific spatial information system utilised for the collection, storage, management, operation, analysis, display, and description of vast amounts of geographic distribution data for surface in support of computer hardware and software systems. In Punjab there is a vibrant network of healthcare facilities monitored through GIS comprising of 2,461 Basic Health Units and 145 public sector hospitals and as of today about 800 BHU’s in Punjab are working 24/7. Yet in the public sector the province of Punjab lags behind the province of Sindh in certain areas such as neo natal hearing screening whereas its landmark achievements include rehabilitation through Cochlear Implantation operations, establishment of autism centres, Faisalabad Institute of Cardiology and Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology and patients will now be accommodated in their own areas to reduce the costs and logistic problems encountered by coming from remote areas to the cities where the main health facilities are located.

Pakistan and China can cooperate in the pharmaceutical industry. A formal framework based on mutual trade benefits can make cheaper raw materials available for the Pakistani pharmaceutical industry

On the other end of the spectrum is the acute shortage of doctors and staff at District hospital Gwadar where the doctors have dwindled from 18 doctors to five. The case is thus made out for CPHC and its operationalisation from the point of entry in Pakistan upto Gwadar port and for this we can tap into the health resources of China. There are around three million medical practitioners, 27,600 hospitals, 0.8 million surgeons and almost six million nurses in China. Not to mention 46 surgical robots in its teaching hospitals. With its sprawling healthcare network China and Pakistan can in tandem with CPEC establish a CPHC with state of the art hospitals. Both the brotherly countries can cooperate in the pharmaceutical industry and as Pakistan is already plush with Chinese origin medicine a formal mutually beneficial trading framework can make available cheaper raw materials for our pharmaceutical industry.

The health indicators for Balochistan and the port city of Gwadar are alarming and need to be addressed on priority yet due to logistical issues and remoteness an enormous amount of financing is a vowedly put forward as being the main impediment in provision of quality healthcare at the doorstep of the residents of Gwadar port city and other districts of Balochistan as well. The flagship project of a port at Gwadar is doomed unless the productivity and quality of life of the local populace in Gwadar is ensured. It is not economically feasible to import labour or skilled workforce for the projects in Gwadar and on the CPEC route in Balochistan as the costs will be exorbitant. The way forward is for the Pakistan China Health Corridor becoming an integral segment of the Pakistan China Economic Corridor to ensure the sustainable and equitable takeoff and sustainability of the CPEC through introduction of GIS all along the Silk Belt and monitoring of health facilities till the last port of call.

This will not only create local goodwill and silence detractors it will usher in an era of economic health tourism and expatriates from the West will flock in large numbers to avail affordable and standardised health treatment. Presently Pakistan is losing out on this lucrative health sector as the patients originating from abroad veer off to our neighbouring countries where they end up spending substantially more on account of language and currency conversion issues and occasional scams.  Not only are we losing in terms of foreign currency our health workforce is under utilised as well. The job creation opportunities are enormous and aggressive marketing dovetailed with a practical realisation of CPHC will spur investment. Instead of making a beeline for Western hospitals Pakistani doctors can acquire latest and advanced medical techniques in robotically aided laparoscopic surgical procedures.

A centralised digital based system operationalised through GIS technology and mutually managed by relevant stakeholders will ensure transparency of profit sharing, economic benefits, marketing and cost effectiveness. The financing mechanism may be entirely managed by the private sector that will readily take up the cudgels once the whiff of profit emanates from CPHC. A collaborative, timely, visionary and holistic approach by all stakeholders is the need of the hour to capitalise on this opportunity.

The writer is PhD in Rehabilitation Sciences, and has done Fellowship in Clinical & Research Neuro Rehabilitation, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine from Seoul National University Hospital, South Korea. She has several publications in academic journals

Published in Daily Times, February25th 2018.


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