Highest literacy growth in Sindh and Punjab: SBP

KARACHI, Oct 30: Sindh and Punjab have, among the four provinces, shown the highest increase in literacy rates between the fiscal years 2001-02 and 2005-06, according to a report released by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

Punjab currently has the highest literacy rate, 56 percent (47 percent in 2002), followed by Sindh at 55 percent (46 percent in 2002). NWFP follows with a literacy rate of 46 percent (38 percent in 2002). A growth rate of two percent was recorded in Balochistan, which showed a literacy rate of 38 percent at the end of the 2005-06 fiscal year.

Overall, however, according to the report, indicators for the education sector in Pakistan "do not reflect an encouraging situation, even among the South Asian group.

"While developed countries enjoy higher literacy rates, underdeveloped nations struggle with the issue of low literacy rates. In the league of developing nations, however, some have been able to drastically improve their literacy level while some still lag behind. The latter category also includes Pakistan," the report reads.

These statistics [from the education sector] also have repercussions on national productivity levels. Another portion of the report speaks about how a shortage of skilled and trainable labour in Pakistan is a key bottleneck for productivity growth. "It is therefore important that Pakistan's ample human resources be productively harnessed by improving access to primary level education, policies to reduce the dropout ratio at the secondary level, and increased opportunities for vocational training," the report read.

Highest infant mortality rate: Pakistan has the highest mortality rate for infants (70 per 1,000) and children under the age of five (101 per 1,000) in the subcontinent, according to another report by the SBP.

The report maintains, though, that a comparative analysis of basic health indicators of Pakistan reflects that the country has shown significant improvement in terms of per capita health spending, life expectancy, infant and maternal mortality rates, immunisation of children, and human and physical health infrastructure. The situation, however, is not satisfactory when compared to countries in South Asia and East Asia.

"Life expectancy in the country is relatively low as compared to most countries [in South and East Asia] while mortality rates indicate more dismal conditions - Pakistan has the highest rate in the mentioned group," the report says. This can mainly be attributed to factors such as poverty, low health spending, lack of infrastructure and lack of awareness..

Total developmental spending on health as a percentage of GDP has witnessed a static trend compared to the year 2000 and a declining trend compared to the year 1990.

Total per capita spending on health, however, stands at $18, which is substantially less than the WHO-recommended figure of $34 for Pakistan.

Moreover, only $5.31 per capita out of $18 is contributed by the government, "which does not seem sufficient for the provision of better health facilities".

Also, a lack of resources has "restricted the mobility and outreach of the staff by hampering their activities," while a shortage of qualified staff, appropriate equipment and medicines in Basic Health Units (BHUs) and Rural Health Units (RHCs) have also adversely affected the needs of the growing local population. Moreover, the report says, the government's effort to increase the number of women health workers has been unsuccessful in meeting the target.

In addition to this, the inability to reduce high maternal mortality rates is impacted by factors such as lack of trained staff, and medical problems such as haemorrhage, infection, and obstructed labour.

"In this regard, there is a need to increase investment in public health facilities and programme to prevent maternal deaths," the report says.

Awareness-raising programmes about family planning, on the other hand, appear successful as family planning techniques are gaining more acceptance in the general public and fertility rates are declining.

Good news: There is good news over the horizon, however, because "in order to overcome the challenges faced by the health sector, the government has started allocating more funds in terms of development and non-development per capita spending", the report said. Daily Times



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