Experts highlight shortage of paediatric surgeons

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KARACHI: The country is relying on less than 200 paediatric surgeons compared to the required number of over 1,250, which puts lives of thousands of infants and children in Pakistan at risk, a body of medical experts and healthcare professionals warned on 6 April 2024.

It referred to the fresh data which suggests that around 33 per cent of Pakistan’s population is comprised of children less than 15 years of age, but only 0.2 paediatric surgeons are available for 100,000 people in the country. In the developed countries, like the United States, they say, where hardly 16pc of the population is of15 years of age, the ratio is 2.6 paediatric surgeons for 100,000 people.

‘Around 2.5 million new-born children die annually in Pakistan, of which 26,492 deaths occur because of congenital anomalies alone,’ said Prof Dr Muhammad Arshad, president of the Association of Pediatric Surgeons of Pakistan (APSP).’

A large number of these children can be saved by increasing the number of paediatric surgeons and posting them at District Headquarter (DHQ) hospitals across Pakistan. Congenital anomalies are the fifth leading cause of deaths in Pakistan, while thousands of more children die due to trauma and other health conditions including cancer, kidney stones, and others.

If the country has the required number of paediatric surgeons serving at public health facilities on the district level, he claimed, most of those precious lives could be saved.

As World Paediatric Surgery Day is marked on Sunday (today), he said, specialised children’s hospitals had been set up in major urban centres like Karachi and Lahore but they were extremely overburdened.

`Children who require elective surgeries often have to wait for five to six months for their turn, resulting in serious, life-threatening complications, said Dr Arshad.

`Often when children requiring surgeries are brought to the specialised medical centres, due to the delay in diagnosis, they already have developed complications, including sepsis, which makes their treatment extremely difficult and many of them die even after surgeries and treatment,` he added.

He was of the view that paediatric surgeons played a crucial role in providing specialised care to infants, children, and adolescents, particularly in diagnosing and treating surgical conditions unique to that population.

However, the shortage of those skilled professionals had strained the healthcare infrastructure and hindered access to timely and quality surgical care for children in need.

`The shortage of paediatric surgeons in Pakistan is multifaceted, stemming from various challenges within the healthcare system,` said Dr Arshad.

`One primary issue is the limited number of training programs and educational opportunities available for aspiring paediatric surgeons. Despite the growing demand for paediatric surgical services, there are only a handful of institutions in Pakistan offering formal training in paediatric surgery. This scarcity of training programs has contributed to a dearth of qualified paediatric surgeons entering the workforce,` he added.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 7th April 2024.

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