Pakistan is facing several challenges in the health sector like malnutrition among women and children, stunting of children and an unsatisfactory rate of child immunisation. Now a national survey has revealed that around 17 million children aged between five and 15 years are at the risk of catching soil-transmitted helminth infections (STH) in 40 districts of the country. These infections are caused by intestinal worms. The first such nationwide survey was conducted by the Ministry of National Health Services in collaboration with the WHO. Of the 17 million children, 4.5 million are in Karachi alone.
Soil-transmitted helminth (parasaitic worms) causes roundworm, hookworm and whipworm. Adult worms live in intestines where they produce thousands of eggs every day. These eggs contaminate the soil in areas that lack sanitation. STH infections can cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, blood and protein loss, rectal prolapse, and physical and cognitive retardation.
Physicians say STH infections mainly cause anaemia, and it has no short-term solution. They also emphasise the need for awareness campaigns for parents. The Aga Khan University has identified the prevalence of widespread anaemia among women of reproductive age after a research. In Pakistan, the prevalence of anaemia among married women aged between 15 and 44 years is 26 per cent in urban areas and 47 per cent in rural areas. The prevalence of anaemia among pregnant women in urban areas ranges between 29 per cent and 50 per cent. An expert deplored that we have not made any long-term plan to meet this challenge. Anaemic women and children are weak and so is their immune system. Anaemia among pregnant women exposes them to pregnancy complications and even death. Anaemic women give birth to anaemic babies.
The Sindh government has planned to launch a deworming programme in the province by the end of this month.
Dislike for girl-child
A disturbing announcement by the Edhi Foundation claimed that more than 300 bodies of new born babies, mostly of girls, were recovered across Karachi in open spaces and on the roadsides during the course of the year. These figures are double that of the year 2018. Saad Edhi claims that certain cultural stereotypes that we have harshly accepted especially those surrounding girls are the main cause.
As class divide increases it becomes harder for the poor to sustain their livelihood and thus families have to rely on children to go out and work in order to earn. In such circumstances a female is of less use because they are considered as a burden rather than a resource. Therefore, families or parents find it more convenient either to kill them or leave them to die because they cannot afford healthcare nor pay for a funeral let alone carrying the burden throughout their lives. There is no other way of explaining this fact no matter how disturbing it sounds.
This problem persists even amongst the rich where there is much emphasis on pride and heritage. A boy, soon to be ‘man’, is considered as the upcoming stakeholder of the entire ancestry. While much importance is bestowed on boys who are destined to take the place as the head of the family, it seems that the choice, in some occasions, for the female is snatched soon after birth. The body is quietly disposed so that word of a female child doesn’t spread.
While gender and class seems to be a huge problem, some also act on religious impulses but such taboo topics cannot be discussed without repercussions.
The figures show the level of moral degradation in our society. In such dystopian times it is important that we give females an equal and active role in society while trying to remind ourselves of the importance of humanity.