Last weekend, I suffered from a repeated occurrence of an excruciating toothache, resulting from a slight overgrowth of the tissue in the growing wisdom tooth. Those who have experienced a long night of toothache woes might be able to relate with the gravity of the issue. Contemporary analgesics are well-suited in the provision of short-term relief options in such cases, and they came to my rescue. Most patients, however, would not have access to sound medical advice in cases of such emergencies. I was told that there was no dental emergency in any of the government teaching hospitals in Lahore which came as a surprise revelation. In public hospitals, there are dental clinics in the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) in teaching institutions such as Services, Mayo and Gangaram Hospital etc but no emergency facility after the office hours. I decided to embark upon researching the facts as to why there was only one comprehensive dental college and hospital in the public sector in Lahore? Why is there no dental emergency in any of the medical colleges, as well as the Dental College?

The only Dental College in a city of more than 12 million people, was established by the then Punjab Governor Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency in the late 1920s. His rationale for creating the institution stemmed from a toothache that his wife experienced in a setting where there existed no prior dental college or hospital in and around a city with approximately 100,000 inhabitants. It is situated right next to the Badshahi Masjid and Lady Wellingdon Hospital, Lahore and its extension, the Punjab Dental Hospital, is located in the Yakki Gate, nearby. As the population has exploded, the city’s ruling elites have failed to provide another dental facility which can meet the requirements of the citizens. In 2005, the Punjab Government under Chief Minister Parvez Elahi launched the foundation stone for the Fatima Jinnah Institute of Dental Sciences in Jubilee Town, LDA scheme area on another side of Lahore. This was about 80 years after the establishment of the first facility of its kind, signifying that lack of apathy on part of the ruling elite when it comes to the provision of basic facilities for the teeming millions and adapting to the changing demographics. Planned for state –of-the-art Dental Healthcare facilities at par with international standards, its brick and mortar structure stood on its ground when the flow of funds to the project was interrupted by the Shahbaz Sharif led government in the province that came to the helm in 2008. There were a lot of empty promises to resume the project by the Punjab government, but until now, Lahoris still have to work with one public dental health facility which was created about 90 years ago. In such dire circumstances, the citizens of the city are left with the only option of going to private dentists, who are too few in number, and consequently, extremely expensive. In the vacuum that exists, quacks and dental technicians have emerged whose practices are extremely risky, whilst the spread of pseudo-science and its practice keeps infiltrating our cultural reality. Some are causing Hepatitis and AIDS due to lack of usage of proper sterilization facilities. It seems ironic that the government is spending billions of rupees on treatment of Hepatitis, but refuses to engage with one of the main causes of the disease.

The ad-hoc termination of developmental projects of political opponents seems to be a recurring theme in Pakistani governance, and this sort of cheap personalization of developmental projects is harming the public at large. Another institution that experienced a similar cull, was the Wazirabad Institute of Cardiology which was built by the Pervez Elahi government from 2002-2008, but rendered non-functional after taking over of the Shahbaz government. The delay of the project led to the Lahore High Court taking notice on July, 10, 2015 and issuing directives to make it fully functional. In the meanwhile, heart patients had to go to other cities for treatment, and just because the incumbent government was not ready to give Parvez Elahi the credit for the institution, the project remained stalled till the current government decided to continue it. While PML(N) leaders continue to voice their protest at the delay in the inauguration of their pet project, the controversial Metro Train project, they seem to be suffering from wilful amnesia of their own misdeeds and narrow-mindedness. In a similar vein, it might be relevant to refer to Marvi Memon’s admission as the newly-elected head of the Benazir Income Support Program that the party regretted playing the role of an opposition that was indulging in opposition for the sake of opposition. Citing the monitoring and evaluation reports of international agencies, she had to swallow the bitter pill of such admission because the project was deemed successful as the social security net program by the international community. In the contemporary context, now that we have a new government at the helm of affairs in the Punjab, as well the Centre, it might make more sense for the planners to engage in proper survey of the already pre-existing developmental projects, rather that indulging in mere replications which might not make sense from a financial point of view. In a similar stream, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, who is now in a position to influence decision making in the current political setup in the Punjab, might stand to gain from the resumption of the Dental Hospital project being finished and made functional.