Daily Times Editorial 14 November 2019

Fight against pneumonia


The World Pneumonia Day reminds us that Pakistan is among the top five countries where pneumonia kills children under-five years old every year. Last year, 409,000 children under-five died in Pakistan from different diseases, and pneumonia topped the grim death chart with 16 per cent. The preventable but deadly and ‘forgotten’ disease claims one young life every 39 seconds in the world that means 800,000 lives altogether, as per the World Health Organisation figures. The top five countries with children under-five mortalities due to pneumonia are Nigeria with 162,000, India 127,000, Pakistan 58,000, the Democratic Republic of Congo 40,000 and Ethiopia 32,000. The disease claims more lives than other diseases accounting for child deaths. Diarrhoea killed 437,000 children under five last year and malaria 272,000. The world can be made safe for children by defeating these preventable diseases. Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore said in a statement, “Strong global commitment and increased investments are critical to the fight against this disease… Only through cost-effective protective, preventative and treatment interventions delivered to where children are will we be able to truly save millions of lives.”
Every child’s death is the failure of the family, community and over all society. Ensuring resources for healthcare and prevention of diseases is the responsibility of society, state and parents. Pneumonia develops from respiratory infections, making breathing painful and limiting inhaling oxygen. The infection causes inflammation in the air sacs in lungs, which are called alvoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus which makes it difficult to breathe. The most troubling thing is that the germs causing pneumonia are contagious. The symptoms are cough, fever, sweating or chills, difficulty in breath (while in routine activities), chest pain, tiredness, fatigue, loss of appetite, feelings of nausea and headaches.
Pakistan has been fighting pneumonia with its Expended Programme on Immunisation (EPI) since 2012 when Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (pneumonia vaccine) was made part of the vaccination programme, making it the first South Asian country to fight pneumonia through the EPI. It should, however, be a matter of great alarm for EPI managers that pneumonia has not been forced out of our part of the world. This is despite the fact that pneumonia vaccines are available in public health facilities. Perhaps an effective awareness campaign can fill the gaps and turn the tide on the deadly child killer disease.


Corruption in the name of foreign teachers


Misappropriation of funds hardly makes headlines in our part of the world. But when the embezzlement is related to education and health funds, it should be a matter of shame for the whole society. And when a prestigious institution like the Government College University (GCU) Lahore is in the news because of dubious payments to foreign faculty, it sends shudders down everybody’s spine. An internal probe by the GCU has unearthed a scam under which $7 million were paid to ‘ghost’ foreign faculty members of the University (GCU) from 2003 to 2013 who served for weeks or months at the college’s Abdus Salam School of Mathematical Sciences (ASSMS) under Higher Education Commission (HEC) Foreign Faculty Hiring Programme (FFHP). It turns out that most of the FFHP funds did not go to the teachers. The FFHP, dubbed a game changer programme by its founder, Dr Attaur Rehman, brought foreign teachers to Pakistani universities for increasing the exposure of local teachers and students and to create a culture of research on local campuses. Under the programme, 58 foreign teachers served at the ASSMS for different durations — few weeks to eight years in some cases. The probe, however, found that several teachers were paid monthly salaries for several years. Of those a few are served at ASSMS for a short term – eight to 12 weeks. The process of payment remained unchecked on part of the parent donor – Higher Education Commission (HEC).
Once the probe was made public, HEC has sprung into action. The college has verified the salary details by reaching out to the foreign teachers, and most of them have shown shock over the ‘excessive’ payments to them. A few of them shared the figures of the money they receive from the ASSMS, which strengthens the notion that funds were misappropriated. The probe found that the visiting teachers were kept in the dark about the terms of the job. A visibly shaken GCU Vice Chancellor Asghar Zaidi has promised a full investigation into the case. The GCU and HEC may utilise forums like Anti-Corruption Establishment, the Federal Investigation Agency and the National Accountability Bureau to get the situation cleared. To verify the presence of foreign teachers, GCU can get help from the students and even immigration staff at airports.
GCU probe might just be the tip of the iceberg. The HEC had better initiate an investigation into other FFHP campuses too. *

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