Conference on Building Primary Care Capacity

Islamabad, March 4, 2020: Pakistan needs to enhance primary healthcare to improve the poor health statistics. This was stated by Dr. Zafar Mirza, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health.  

He was speaking during the opening ceremony of the two-day conference on Family Medicine entitled "Building Primary Care Capacity: Pakistan's Critical Need," organised by the Higher Education Commission (HEC) in collaboration with the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) and Rawalpindi Medical University (RMU) at RMU's main campus on Wednesday.

Dr. Mirza said that there are, 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.

"This 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."

Dr. Mirza emphasised that efforts are needed to improve the quality of healthcare facilities at all levels. He regretted the unnecessary high rate of injections administered.

Dr. 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 reiterated that the Government's Health Reforms Agenda is aimed at ensuring the vision of Universal Health Coverage in order to deliver the essential health services to people.

He also informed that audience that the Government, through the Pakistan Health Diaspora Initiative, Yaraan-e-Watan is committed to providing overseas Pakistani doctors a platform to contribute to the country's health sector.  

"This initiative is meant to channelise 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 the Family Medicine and resolve the healthcare issues in Pakistan."

In his remarks, Chairman HEC Tariq Banuri said that HEC is committed to 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 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, President APPNA 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 pointed to Pakistan's low health indicators which are 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. She said Pakistan spends only 2.7 per cent of its GDP on the health sector. She stressed the need for effective childcare medical facilities to decrease the child mortality rate, and promotion of public education on communicable diseases.

Dr. Usmani said that 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 Healthcare Task Vision on Family Medicine, Dr. Faisal Sultan, the keynote speaker of the Conference, said the Family Medicine requires quality health care, wherein the curative and preventive health care are 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 flexibility of the resource allocation to suit to the local needs. He said Pakistan is 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."

Vice Chancellors RMU Prof. Muhammad Umar said RMU is the fastest growing medical university of Pakistan, adding that RMU had its humble beginning as Rawalpindi Medical College in 1974 and earned the status of a university in 2017. He said RMU is striving to achieve its goals in a systematic manner in line with its 15 years strategic vision, i.e., the RMU Vision 2033. 

Earlier in his opening remarks, Chairman APPNA-MERIT Dr. Shahid Rafique expressed his gratitude to all the stakeholders for making the first-ever Conference happen on such an important subject.

The objective of the Conference is to identify actionable items needed to enhance life expectancy and health outcomes in the country. These include fostering of training programmes and policies for comprehensive development of Family Medicine, investing in public health and health systems, and initiating a programme for training nurses. The Conference is also consistent with the steps taken recently by the HEC to enhance the quality and relevance of the system of education in the country.  

The Conference is expected to provide a strong basis for the development of Family Medicine, which will ultimately improve healthcare for all Pakistanis.

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