Pictures of a man carrying his son with some portable IV drips, went viral last week on social media where people are criticizing the parlous state of healthcare in Afghanistan. However, in the background of the picture, the letters on the ambulance clearly shows that the old man is an Afghan in India, which expose us to debate one of the pressing problems of Afghanistan “Medical Tourism”.
According to Médecins Sans Frontières one in every five patients interviewed had a family member or close friend who had died within the last year due to the lack of access to medical care services. A shocking fact, indeed. But those who can afford seek medical treatment in countries overseas like Pakistan, India or Turkey.
Medical tourism is a major threat and harmful for our economy. Many patients don’t reach India or Pakistan and die before reaching their destination due to severity of their medical conditions. So far, the theme of “healthcare” has never been a major part of any election campaign in Afghanistan. Thus, including “healthcare” agenda in the upcoming election campaigns and building medical facilities, investing in sustainable healthcare projects inside would be a major step toward rectifying our health sector.
A decent hospital. A proper cancer centre. A Multidisciplinary facility for organ transplantation, for example. Building the fundamental framenwork of healthcare should be goverment’s priority. AIDS patients are denied treatment in many Afghan hospitals. A decent shelter or help centre to help is not a lot to ask. Maternal mortality and combating drugs addiction are other important issues. With these exisiting challenges, we are miles away from awarding one another. Results count, not the trophies.
In 1994 a famous Pakistani cricketer and current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan devoted his life work and to build the first Shaukat Khanum memorial cancer hospital in Pakistan. Last month a video was released by the PTI social media showing an Afghan patient kissing PM Imran’s hand and requesting him to build a similar facility in Afghanistan. Imran khan hints at establishing a cancer centre across the border as a reply and ridiculed the current Afghan health system indirectly.
This raises the question, where did we fail? Why should Afghan citizens kiss Pakistani PM’s hands to get access to the most basic medical care? How come we never succeed in building a proper cancer centre, let alone one with free health service costs? How come our world famous sporters, politicians and businessmen never gathered their strength and money to build something similar? Afghanistan is in close cooperation with USAID, world bank and a humongous network of other NGO’s. How come a proposal of building a cancer centre has never been proposed to any of these institutions? How come the government failed to facilitated medical care and launch major project to achieve good healthcare?
A lot can be achieved with less money. Invest in building medical facilities with the best professionals and I guarantee not only the problems around medical tourism will be solved, but Afghanistan will have its own medical facilities with world standards medical care. If lack of qualified doctors is the problem, take foreign employees for a change. Even Europeans invites Indian radiologists to work in their hospitals. Break vicious chain of medical tourism. Offer high salaries to foreign doctors and train the best doctors in Afghanistan by them. Many government diplomats get highly scaled salaries above $12 thousand. Offer at least half of this amount to a doctor and see the results. Either way, providing medical care is a priority and should be part of the elections debate in the upcoming months.
Afghan healthcare system needs fierce reforms