Category Published Date
Election 20 February 2017

Detailed census Next month’s census is going to be the blueprint for public policy over the next decade and as such it is important that as many details as possible are collected. Funds for everything from welfare payments to health and education will be apportioned and allocated on the basis of the census. The effectiveness of such programmes is dependent on knowing exactly where money needs to be spent. This is why the medical community is suggesting the government collect data on five major diseases — diabetes, hypertension, obesity, hepatitis and cardiac illness — in the census. A petition filed in the Supreme Court has also asked for the census to include information about disabled people. The government and Supreme Court should follow through since collecting and analysing information on physical and mental health issues will give it a better idea of emerging health problems and reveal if there are regional differences in the incidence of these problems, thus allowing it to distribute resources based on that data. Diabetes, in particular, is believed to be disproportionately prevalent in Pakistan, with more than seven percent of the population thought to suffer from the disease. But such figures are only a rough estimation since no systemic data has been collected. The census is the best opportunity to rectify that. Getting better health statistics is important not only for the government to devise better public health strategies but for private researchers too. The 1998 census did collect information on disabilities but it was done in such a shoddy and unscientific manner that it is continuing to affect policies on helping the disabled to this day. That census found that about 2.5 percent of the population is suffering from disabilities, an extraordinarily low number likely caused by the social stigma of admitting to a disability. Of those who identified as disabled, about eight percent were classified as “mentally retarded”, once again not something most people would admit and which doesn’t distinguish between various kinds of disability. These low official numbers mean very few resources are devoted to helping the disabled. This time around, the government has to do a more thorough job in collecting data and allow researchers to analyse it so they can identify health issues in the country and work towards solutions. It is believed, for example, that the poor and lower urban middle class are more likely to suffer from hypertension than the wealthy and those who live in rural areas because of dietary and lifestyle reasons. But the only data we have on the issue is the National Health Survey, whose sampling is done on the basis of the 1998 census. Having these statistics available in the census itself would be invaluable in proving the hypothesis and developing strategies to counter it.

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