The rapid increase in dengue cases in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) – with 248 cases in Punjab in only the last 48 hours and a total of 900 patients admitted to hospitals in KP – is quickly developing into a health crisis. With 80 patients in Rawalpindi alone, the government’s failure in preventing this issue in its own backyard points to indifference, or worse, incompetence.

This is not the only disease that currently threatens to become an epidemic in the country. The government’s abject failure in eradicating polio, the rise of the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever (CCHF) virus and the yearly return of the Naegleria fowleri – the brain-eating virus that can be completely protected against if people drink safe, chlorinated water – is indicative of absent governance in the matter of healthcare.

All of these diseases are easily preventable if steps are taken in advance of the problem. Dengue requires regular fumigation in and around the monsoon months when mosquitoes breed and awareness campaigns to inform citizens about the use of repellents. Polio needs vaccinations that are given at the time of infancy and do not require too much interference by the state in the lives of citizens. CCHF is preventable if animals that have the infected tick are cleaned thoroughly the ticks removed. All the government really needs to eradicate Naegleria fowleri is to provide clean drinking water to the people, something it already should be doing under any circumstances. The fact that these diseases require very limited work on part of the government makes its inaction all the more condemnable. The reason though is obvious. The Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC) is in complete disarray. With a special minister to the Prime Minister, and additional secretary, a Director General for Health and the Prime Minister’s own cousin pushing for reforms from the Ministry, it is no wonder that key healthcare issues lie ignored.

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government has made a mess of the Ministry by appointing too many of its preferred people in senior positions without demarking any specific roles or responsibilities. What this does is also absolve each of them from the failure to act on these diseases, as any liability the Ministry incurs will be passed off to others in leadership positions. The NHSRC must not become a means to offer up lucrative positions of power for those the Prime Minister is fond of. The state must look to stop the spread of the dengue virus from taking any lives this year and start taking these epidemics seriously.