Health and elections

Reports of shortage of human resource in public institutions provide a reality check to our politicians who are wooing voters with promises of more infrastructures.

The national referral hospital is facing an acute shortage of health workers. Nursing department is short of 173 nurses, and the eye department has a lone ophthalmologist. The shortage of health professionals and medical equipment could be worse at the national level.

While old and new equipment in regional referral hospitals are breaking down, the country is building new hospitals for specialised care. Inaugurated hospitals are not yet operational and launched vaccines are yet to be introduced. In our case, we do the feasibility studies to start new vaccines after the launch just as we continue constructing new hospitals after their inaugurations.

Against these challenges in the health sector, the civil service commission has cited that it is facing a losing battle to keep the civil service small and compact. Education and health services groups together account for more than half of the total civil service strength and these two groups has been the primary driver of the civil service growth.

Both parties contesting the general election are promising more healthcare centres equipped with professionals. Some people are sceptical. Given our apprehensiveness towards politics and politicians, it is often hard to believe that these pledges could be grounded in goodwill. But it is time for the facts to rise above the pomp of political campaigns.

It is time our politicians make promises in the context of our existing healthcare system and its inherent challenges. It takes longer to train a specialist than the tenure of an elected government, but politicians are promising doctors and specialists for each health centre. Attempts to transfer health workers result in appeals and policy decisions are revoked. This is still happening and is likely to continue.

People also assume that a lot of our problems are due to lack of political will. While this may not be a major factor for us, in our context, the problem is more to do with resources – both human and financial. The issue is about sustainability while keeping up with emerging public health concerns.

The question is: How do we make this happen? This is what the people would want our politicians to thrash out in the public debates. Given the declining public confidence in our healthcare system and the importance people accord to healthcare, it would require both political will and political skill to address the problems plaguing our health sector.

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