Building Community Resilience Through Public Health To Address Violent Extremism

KARACHI: Public health is erroneously understood as something that pertains solely to medical practitioners and what transpires inside a hospital but Media Baithak decided to explore public health in a more holistic manner so as to include the environment, food and water insecurity, mental health facilities and institutes for rehabilitation of those abused and traumatized.

In a round-table session on the 26th of November, 2019, doctors, professors, journalists, educators, and social workers decided to partake in a discussion regarding how public health or the lack thereof has an impact of violent extremism in the country. The causes of why public health is a neglected field of our society were analyzed and resolutions to remedy this in Pakistan were also sought.

The session began with a casual conversation that touched upon misinformation, lack of awareness and lack of data collection in the country contributing heavily to the misuse and abuse of health facilities as well as the average person not having the guidance they need to seek the treatment they require. Dr. Minhaj Kidwai, CEO of Healthcare Commission Sindh, launched the round-table on an optimistic note by declaring that the healthcare commission Sindh, which was launched in 2018, has been the first regulatory body of healthcare practices in Sindh and had so far registered 3500 healthcare facilities in the province. This effort has greatly reduced one of the banes of wellness practices such as quackery and faith healers. In addition to this their complaint department has increased the accountability of the practices being implemented in registered healthcare facilities. He also insisted that the most important thing is to empower the community as a whole so they are more aware of and better able to counter the malpractices that they face.  

“Violence and extremism is everywhere in society, domestic violence, child abuse, street violence, muggings, in madrassahs, in schools,” said Dr. Mohammad Taufiq. To counter this we have to see what motivates the enactor of violence to behave in such a way, are his human rights being met? Does he have access to the same opportunities that he sees on TV and online? If not, what is he willing to do to achieve them? These are some of the motives that we attach to the violator but in essence the true perpetrator is that who does not ensure that every citizen of the country has their due human rights and protections. Dr. Taufiq also cited population growth as a major factor in not being able to counter violent extremism in the country, as parents are having more children than they can afford. This results in that child being susceptible to extremist forces being able to hold sway as they can provide him with basic human rights (such as food, shelter, education) that his parents cannot. This is a public health crisis as the lack of autonomy that women have over their own reproductive health is a national emergency and the reason why the population is not being controlled. 

Akhtar Shaheen, a senior journalist specializing in health, lamented that there is no in-depth analysis of public health policy; the only reports on health that are published are one-off cases of mismanagement or malpractice. There must be a scrutiny and accountability for national and provincial level health policies that have an overarching effect on the nation as a whole. Similarly Saba Sultan, health reporter at Abbtakk News, we were more informative before the media crises clamped down on the amount of information we delve in in regards to health and medical practices. She was also of the opinion that there is a dearth of women health practitioners which greatly reduces the comfort and accessibility that women in the country have with professional health practices.

Dr. Farhan Shakeel from the organization Aas Trust, had a less optimistic point of view when asked the future of public health and countering violent extremism as his experience working with street children and their parents has painted him a bleak picture of how apathetic the government and society is in the face of the suffering that is in plain view. He cited mistrust towards the state institutions as a whole because of the lack of support there is in regards to the plight of children and adults experiencing violence at all levels; street, family and institutional. 

Lack of monetary compensation for health workers is a major crisis in the country as this greatly impacts their quality of work. “A doctor earning a measly Rs. 25,000 a month has to focus on his family and his patients and when he knows that he is unable to provide for his family with his salary there is little choice but to strike for better wages or reduce the quality of their work due to demotivation and demoralization,” said Dr. Aamir Syed. He also said that the reason there is such an influx of quackery in the medical world in Pakistan is because all doctors have their practices in town centers instead of city outskirts. If there is no accessibility to reliable doctors, what option does a patient have? The government and private practices have to incentivize their doctors in a sustainable way to amend this malpractice in society.

Dr. Razia Zahid, an educationist with Alfajar Academy, was positive about the change that she has witnessed in the youth of the country. ‘Social sciences are being introduced in med school which has greatly improved the future doctors problem solving and critical thinking skills which has led them to question the norms in society and therefore actively work towards changing them.” The key that she said is to counsel parents as well as students as the harm that many of these children enact is learned from their homes, where entire families are suffering under abusive conditions.  

The panelists all agreed that till the movement to revive and repair public health in the country is not at a grassroots level, all else is simply superficial public relation stunts that will not create a sustainable health industry that can combat intolerance, bigotry, racism and sectarian violence.

Media Baithak serves as a community space for the cultural engagement of media and civil society representatives. It gives a platform to distinguished voices from the fields of journalism, politics, academia and other fields to discuss contemporary issues of the society.

The organization has previously conducted round-tables on the role of media, women and education in combating violent extremism. Media Baithak also focused on the role of freedom of speech and social media when it comes to a cohesive and collective society.

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