ISLAMABAD - Pakistan is facing health emergency, as 352,000 children die every year before reaching the age of five. The country has the highest rate of first day newborn and stillbirth deaths in the world and leads to deaths of 28,000 mothers every year. Yet health is the most under reported sector in Pakistani media.

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The role of media in highlighting health issues is often affected due to lack of information. It is time that the media should take up this issue and report it with such consistency that it pressurises the policymakers to focus on their responsibility.

This was the crux of discussion at the two-day health reporters training workshop held in Islamabad.

The workshop was conducted by Save the Children in collaboration with Mishal Pakistan. Chief Executive Officer of Mishal Pakistan, Amir Jahangir, mentioned that Pakistan’s health budget is still the lowest and under 1 per cent which is the lowest in the region and the world.

Eighty per cent of the budget accounts for salaries and existing costs. Pakistan medical association claims that corruption and mismanagement is rampant in the health sector. According to PMA the health situation cannot improve unless the budget is enhanced to at least 8 per cent.

The government embroiled in current political issues is giving almost no attention to the child mortality and mother mortality issues which require immediate attention.

The lead trainer told the participants that most of the health targets, government of Pakistan committed at the international level under Millennium Development Goals No 4 & 5 for 2015, are certain to be missed.

Instead most of the targets that were to be achieved by next year now been put in Vision 2025. Although most political parties in their manifestos mention health as their priority yet the moment they come to power, the health sector remains neglected, he added.

After 18th Amendment health is now a provincial responsibility but the centre still supervises vaccination campaign and other major health initiatives.

The lack of clarity on the devolution of health sector has led to confusion which was evident in last year’s measles deaths in Sindh.

Lack of vaccination, poor health facilities and water and sanitation issues are compounding the problems, as health workers throughout the country are currently battling to curtail polio which is reaching a record level this year.

Awareness about breastfeeding remains a low priority area for the government as well as the media. Breastfeeding has increased at a snail’s pace in the last five years i.e. 6 % while bottled milk has sharply risen to over 12% raising concerns over the health authorities efforts to promote breastfeeding.

The reporters need to join hands with civil society and adopt innovative ways to bring health issues in focus in the media before it gets too late.

Dr Samina Naeem Khalid, assistant professor department of maternal, neonatal & child health, Health Services Academy, told the workshop that a coordinated effort from all stakeholders can drastically reduce child mortality.