Dawn Editorial 27th May 2024

World Cup team

PAKISTAN waited until the very end to name their T20 World Cup squad. Even then, there was last-minute drama. Four members of the selection committee, including captain Babar Azam and head coach Gary Kirsten, had decided on the combination from England, where the national team is playing its final warm-up series ahead of the tournament in the US and West Indies. But with inputs from the remaining three committee members having apparently not been taken till the deadline set by the International Cricket Council, a virtual meeting was set up to rubber-stamp the final squad. There were few surprises — with almost all the players currently in England, apart from Salman Ali Agha and Irfan Khan Niazi, grabbing a ticket to the World Cup. Five of them — batters Saim Ayub, Azam Khan and Usman Khan, and bowlers Abrar Ahmed and Abbas Afridi — will feature in the tournament for the first time. Babar will lead Pakistan for the third time at a T20 World Cup, his side having finished as semi-finalists and runners-up in the last two editions respectively. Eight players in the current squad featured in the final of the 2022 edition, where Pakistan lost to England.

Thus, the ongoing series against the defending champions will give a clearer idea of Pakistan’s credentials. After the first game was washed out, Pakistan’s batters came up short in the chase in the second. The players now have just two more matches to perform better before their World Cup opener. Pakistan experimented with their line-up in their last two series against New Zealand and Ireland, where results were not favourable. They came back twice to draw the series against New Zealand, before falling in the opening game of the series triumph against Ireland. Pakistan, however, have a knack of peaking before tournaments, and with a settled line-up, the team will hope to lay down a marker before the World Cup against England.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

Antibiotic overuse

ANTIMICROBIAL resistance is an escalating crisis claiming some 700,000 lives annually in Pakistan. It is the third leading cause of death, trailing only cardiovascular disease and maternal and neonatal disorders. These alarming statistics, shared recently at the National Antimicrobial Stewardship Summit 2024, underscore a grave situation. Antibiotics, heralded as ‘wonder drugs’, have saved countless lives. However, their rampant misuse has precipitated a public health emergency. Pakistan, the third largest consumer of antibiotics globally, consumed Rs126bn worth of these medicines in 2023 alone. The consequences of overuse are dire, with bacteria now exhibiting resistance even to third and fourth-generation antibiotics. Many factors contribute to this crisis. Self-medication, ‘prescriptions’ by quacks, incomplete courses of antibiotics, and substandard production practices are primary culprits. Moreover, the misuse of antibiotics in livestock worsens the problem, contributing to 80pc of antimicrobial resistance cases in this sector. This not only impacts human health but also threatens food security.

The government must aim to increase understanding of antibiotic resistance among both healthcare professionals and the public, through awareness drives, healthcare professional training, patient education, school and community programmes and the distribution of information material at hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. The government must also enforce strict regulations on the sale of antibiotics, ensuring they are available only through prescription by licensed doctors. Additionally, there should be stringent oversight of drug companies to guarantee the production of high-quality antibiotics. Moreover, investment in healthcare infrastructure is crucial. Strengthening antimicrobial stewardship programmes that promote appropriate use of antibiotics in hospitals can curb over-prescription. These programmes should incorporate lessons from past health crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw a spike in antibiotic use despite clinical guidelines advising against it for viral infections. Also, vaccination programmes can play a pivotal role in preventing infections that might otherwise necessitate antibiotic treatment. The success of the typhoid conjugate vaccine campaign in Sindh demonstrates the efficacy of such initiatives. The spectre of AMR looms large, threatening to render common infections untreatable and reversing decades of medical progress. Only through sustained efforts can we hope to turn the tide against the devastation antibiotic misuse can cause and safeguard public health for future generations.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

Mercury rising

SHOULD we expect a political heatwave this summer? The climate seems to be rather conducive to it. The two largest parties are once again on the warpath, with a slew of troubling developments precluding any hopes for the long-awaited normalisation of political temperatures.

In Lahore, the chief minister of Punjab has approved the registration of fresh cases against the PTI leadership, this time for “building a hateful narrative against state institutions”. It appears that the PML-N government will rely on the odious defamation bill it recently passed in the Punjab Assembly to go after its chief rival. The provincial information minister, speaking on the matter, explained to the media that the Punjab home department had provided information establishing that PTI leaders were “spreading mischief inside and outside jail”. She claimed that the party was “spreading hate as part of organised propaganda” to incite the people, destabilise the country and inculcate hatred against its institutions.

Was this anticipated? Unfortunately, yes. Meanwhile, in Islamabad, the PTI has been engaged in a bitter confrontation with the Capital Development Authority, which this week razed part of the party’s central secretariat and later sealed the building under an anti-encroachment drive after issuing several warnings. Twenty-six individuals, including a PTI leader, were subsequently booked by Islamabad Police on various charges, including terrorism, allegedly for violently resisting the CDA operation.

Understandably, the party is incensed by its relentless victimisation; disappointingly, it has yet to show any remorse for its own culpability in similar targeting of its opponents in the past. It has also seemed unwilling to mend fences with its opponents, having set strict preconditions for any negotiations that are unlikely to be accepted in the current situation. It seems in no hurry to see matters resolved and appears to be hoping that the crises engulfing the government will eventually bring about its downfall.

These are all worrying reminders that political stability, a prerequisite for the economic stability desperately sought by the inflation-weary citizenry, remains as elusive as ever. With the budget almost upon us and the IMF making it clear it will not consider extending more loans till its painful requisites are met, the months ahead are likely to see civil discontent explode once again as summer electricity bills and new taxation measures land on the largely unsuspecting public.

The country seems to be at the end of its tether. At some point, its leaders need to ask themselves: what is the point of fighting if ashes are all that will be left to rule over after they are done? Each of them is equally responsible for the deep pit Pakistan seems to have fallen into. It is time they stopped digging deeper and started thinking about how to get it out.

Published in Dawn, May 27th, 2024

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