Health care | Pakistan Today

Health care

It’s time to get past social hang-ups

Several times a day each citizen of this country feels a deep and compelling urge to curse the government, and the urge is strongest when he waves goodbye to his children, this country being unable to meet their higher education requirements. Clearly, I am speaking of those who are able to afford this, who curse even as they thank God for the means to send their children away from a place that has become increasingly untenable.

While those who remain battle the ever mounting challenges that life in Pakistan poses, the ones who leave inevitably realise, often with guilty surprise, that they no longer wish to return home because they have become used to living in peace.

Even as we endlessly debate Memogates and other sordid political issues, Pakistan’s social problems are threatening to pull it apart in more destructive ways. For the present generation of hundreds of thousands of citizens aged fifty odd, there are no care facilities for an old age when they reach it without their children’s support. Yet even the suggestion that these facilities may be required is considered shameful: ‘Are you suggesting that we should place our parents in care?’

Yes, if the need arises.

Not everyone is blessed with children, while of those who are, not everyone has a child able, willing or near enough to look after aged parents.

An elderly human being is a subject for compassion. His once easy life is transformed into a series of insurmountable challenges until children, now the carers, are left with a petulant, repetitive, sick, demanding, frail being with myriad requirements.

Caring for an elderly person is difficult and carers are equally subjects for compassion. They need support and respite, and in an increasingly un-communal society this need is increasingly hard to fulfil. So yes, care facilities are in fact required for both the elderly and for their carers.

Religion is a double edged sword and unfortunately it is wielded in Pakistan by the majority (which happens to be rabid Muslim) ‘Allah Malik hai’ side up. While of course this statement is true and Allah is Malik indeed, it does not free any person from the natural consequences of inaction, lack of vision or sense. It is time we realised the scale of our problems and dealt with them and a good way to do this is to study how other societies have provided for their elderly.

The popular notion that in Western societies the elderly are invariably ill-treated is a fallacy. It is also incorrect to suppose that because parents live with their children in Pakistan there is no abuse of the elderly here. Living together is not necessarily synonymous with an absence of abuse. In fact, in today’s busy lifestyle with increasingly smaller homes and less domestic help, abuse has probably increased.

The more vigorous lifestyle and better health care in the West means that although people live longer, they are more physically fit than before, and us. Generally more desirous of living independently they are enabled to do so by means of communities that provide stepped-up levels of on-call aid to senior citizens, which means that starting with assisted living these facilities increase in scope as people become older, until total nursing care is available for those who need it.

For those who do live with their children respite care is available – for the parent and by extension for the child, so that he/she is able to take time off to rest or for other commitments.

For both, teams of workers supported by volunteers are organised into providing meals, home cleaning, library books, medical care, transport, and other services; there are clubs for the elderly while carers are provided with information and support in their role.

On the other hand, in Pakistan, we have health ‘care’ which is responsible for the death of more than 114 people as a result of fake or expired medication. This issue is set to become another of the endless ‘scandals’ which beset this country where a few persons lose their jobs, and the matter is relegated to several commissions and a series of television talk shows until it fizzles out, while the problem remains or gets even worse.

The Edhi Centre appears to be one of the few places providing aged care facilities. In addition, there are agencies that provide a roster of carers but most of these are untrained persons even at times young students. For those requiring something better it is time to get past social hang-ups and get started on a few projects and the more the people benefit from their efforts, the better for the entire country.

Rabia Ahmed

The writer is a freelance columnist. Read more by her at

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