Trailblazing innovations

by Tauqeer Abbas
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Shafaqna Pakistan: Shakir Hussain, a 30-year-old resident of Binyamin, Lower Kurram, runs a pharmacy from his Hujra (a dedicated space for men in the house). Hussain recently completed a first aid training, after which he ventured into setting up a small pharmaceutical business. At his pharmacy, he is available round the clock, come rain come shine – providing first aid to people from at least eight adjoining villages. “I have witnessed so many incidents where minor injuries have led to bigger complications, even death, due to delay in the first aid or unavailability of staff in the hospital,” Hussain said, adding that although the nearest hospital is 5 kilometers away, people are unable to take their injured or sick relatives they do not have modes of transportation. Access to quality healthcare is further compromised due to a dearth of trained staff and medical equipment and services.

To gain a deeper understanding of the healthcare system in the Merged Areas (MA), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bureau of Statistics Planning and Development Department conducted a survey in 2019. Its findings indicated a need for innovative solutions as one doctor was burdened with serving roughly 6,000 people in a population of 5 million people in the region. In addition, a total of 316 nurses were practicing in the MA – making one nurse serving a whopping 16,000 people.

In addition to its efforts in mending a rickety healthcare infrastructure, the provincial government has been assiduous in tackling illiteracy, which is especially worse for girls and women. According to a 2017-19 Report of Education Management Information System, KP Government Educational Institutes, female literacy rate in the MA stood at 12.7% whereas the dropout rate for girls was 79%; 73% of them had dropped out during transition from primary to middle school and 47% had abandoned formal education when progressing from middle school to high school.

Trailblazing innovations in the healthcare and education system, the KP Industries, Commerce and Technical Education Department in collaboration with the Merged Areas Governance Project (MAGP) of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is bringing an “Accelerated Skills Development” project to the merged districts. This innovation is focused on strengthening Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) by building access to skills and access to finance and honing the untapped potential of unemployed youth and women. The more women and youth are trained and employed, the stronger the healthcare and education system becomes.

“The merger raised significant public expectations. The unemployment numbers are unfortunately very high as compared to those in the settled districts,” said Ahmed Umair, SME specialist working on the project at MAGP. “The key objective of the initiative is to produce immediate and short-term income generation activities for women and the youth, especially in the service sector as the MA economy is primarily a service-based economy, and lay the foundations of long-term employment.”

The interventions of this project are aimed at strengthening the education and health sector because not only there is a serious need for improvement but also, jobs in these sectors are regarded as the more socially acceptable professions for women in the MAs. Commenting on the inclusion of women in the mainstream development schemes, Abdur Rehman, a youth activist from Orakzai district said, “People in the MAs have realized that they need to focus on the education of girls as much as they do for boys. Perspectives on women’s education are evolving.”

He explained when people were forced to relocate due to instability in the region, they gained exposure to a different world and became aware of their rights, especially when it comes to health and education. “People want their children to get quality education, including girls, and have access to gainful career opportunities.”

In the first phase of the Accelerated Skills Development project, community schools will be operationalized for two years at existing buildings or infrastructure, and grants will be given to the school management for procurement of furniture, fixtures, energy solutions, teachers’ trainings, and books and uniforms for enrolled students. These will be low-fee private schools with a fee structure under Rs.350/child/month. The idea is to empower the local women to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs and build private, for-profit commercial community schools for girls in the MAs, which not only enables them to stand on their feet but also contribute financially to their families.

This will also encourage hesitant parents to send their girls to schools as the schools will not be located at a distance and they would also know who the teachers are so it will be easier to build trust.

Furthermore, as part of the same project, the provincial government will organize skills trainings for women and the youth, and provide them with basic equipment to become financially self-sustaining health care workers. This new well-equipped and trained workforce will then be providing carious health care services such as phlebotomy, medicine retail, elderly care as well as hypertension and diabetes nursing care, among others. The KP Health Care Commission will monitor these trainings and upon completion, certificates will be awarded to these newly trained health care workers. This workforce will be connected to private medical businesses such as hospitals, drug chains and diagnostic laboratories, to launch their career as health care service providers. In addition, they will also be able to access government’s finance schemes such as Insaf Rozgar and Economic Revitalization of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Project (ERKP).

“This initiative will not only provide economic benefit to the people but will also improve the health condition of the people in MAs on the whole,” said Faiza Babar, Senior Sector Specialist on Gender, MAGP.

“One of the main goals of this designed intervention is to socially and economically empower disadvantaged youth and women of MAs in health sector, and provide them with market-oriented technical and entrepreneurial skills,” she said, adding that trainees will also build the soft skills necessary for advancing in their careers and landing good employment opportunities in future.

Source: The Nation (Writer; N. Burki)

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