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Dawn Editorial 13 January 2020

Punjab AIDS epidemic

DISTURBING reports are emerging from Punjab where there has been a surge in HIV/AIDS cases owing to the alleged mismanagement of the provincial AIDS control programme, which is said to be on the verge of collapse. The number of registered AIDS patients in the province has risen to an alarming 18,556, comprising about 50pc of the total number of registered cases across the country — 36,900. Apparently, the provincial AIDS control programme has been marred by internal rifts for quite some time, as a result of which at least four key officials resigned from their positions in November 2019. Meanwhile, the programme is said to have bungled the monitoring and screening of the top five at-risk population groups in the province — injecting drug users, transgender people, male and female sex workers, and truck and bus drivers — and misreported the total number of HIV/AIDS patients in the province. As if this was not enough, the Punjab government has also supposedly failed to obtain 100,000 rapid diagnostic kits used for screening of patients, increasing the chances of a looming HIV/AIDS epidemic in the province.
While the number of people living with HIV/AIDS is declining worldwide, in Pakistan, the figure seems to be steadily increasing. According to the 2019 UNAIDS report, HIV incidence per 1,000 people in Pakistan has risen from 0.08 in 2010 to 0.11 in 2018 — despite “massive funding” by foreign donors to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS — earning us a place among 11 countries in the world with the highest prevalence of the disease. Last year, Larkana district gained global notoriety after almost 900 people, out of whom more than 750 were children, tested positive for HIV/AIDS in the small town of Ratodero. These frequent outbreaks, however, are symptomatic of the larger malaise in the country’s healthcare and governance system, and thus reek of mismanagement and negligence by the authorities concerned. The Punjab Health Department needs to wake up and tackle this crisis head on before the damage becomes incontrollable.


Four-day Tests

THE International Cricket Council’s recent suggestion to reduce the traditional five-day Tests to four days has met with stiff resistance from players around the world, while purists have scoffed at the idea which they allege is being promoted for predominantly commercial reasons. The proposal will be discussed in the upcoming ICC meeting scheduled to take place in Dubai in March. Though a majority of the cricket boards have hitherto refrained from officially commenting on the proposal, Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board have emerged as strong proponents of four-day Tests. In defence of their stance, they contend that a large number of Test matches played in recent years — especially those involving young cricketing nations such as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and a few others — have been lop-sided contests that have ended within four days. Besides, other factors such as the ICC’s increasing demand for event windows, the proliferation of T20 leagues, and the exorbitant costs of staging Test series are all said to have contributed to the proposal being put forward.
But while the ICC may have its own reasons to back four-day Tests, many former cricketers — including legendary figures like Javed Miandad, Sachin Tendulkar, Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli — have raised objections to the proposed idea and termed it ‘ridiculous’. They feel that Test cricket remains the game’s best format and correctly point out that it showcases a team’s true calibre, its resilience, patience and consistency over the course of the five-day period. Curtailing the Tests in any way, they insist, could deprive the format of its romance that has been the essence of the game for over 140 years. The truth is that the ICC, the game’s world governing body, has got its priorities mixed up here. Rather than advocating four-day Tests, it should concentrate on adopting measures to strengthen the weaker teams, ensure quality pitches around the world to promote competitive games and strictly bind powerful teams like India to fulfill their cricket commitments with Pakistan that could hugely boost Test matches as a financially viable format. There are, of course, other factors the ICC needs to look at. Inclement weather affecting a session or two in matches is a common occurrence in cricket while niggling injuries could render players temporarily inactive. The traditional five-day Test allows for these eventualities rather well and allows the teams a fair chance to compensate for them.


Vacant CEC post

WHERE legislation regarding the appointment of the services chiefs was concerned, nearly all parties in parliament showed surprising alacrity to get the job done. However, another equally important matter seems to have not elicited the same zeal from our parliamentarians: the need to appoint a permanent chief election commissioner.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has been without a CEC since Sardar Mohammad Raza’s retirement in early December, although the Constitution mandates that when ECP positions fall vacant, they must be filled within 45 days.
The relevant parliamentary committee consisting of government and opposition members has failed to agree on a consensus candidate, while an acting CEC calls the shots.
In fact, the electoral watchdog is short of two other members besides the CEC: the vacancies were created after the retirement of members from Sindh and Balochistan, but have not been filled because of the acrimonious relationship between the government and the opposition.
This lethargy in managing the affairs of this key institution by lawmakers is confounding.
However, media reports indicate there has been some movement of late, with former prime minister and PPP leader Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who is a member of the aforesaid parliamentary committee, saying that both sides will meet soon to break the deadlock.
The ECP plays a critical role in holding up the democratic edifice in the country by conducting and overseeing the electoral process. From local government polls to the general elections, the ECP needs to be in perfect working order for the democratic process to function smoothly. What is more, the CEC must be a non-polarising, non-controversial figure acceptable to all political players.
However, the attitude of parliamentarians up till now indicates they are not too bothered about this key national institution and its top office.
This is strange as the PTI, while on the opposition benches, regularly and stridently raised the issue of electoral reform, particularly the importance of making the ECP more independent and effective.
Opposition parties — most of which have raised doubts about the fairness of the 2018 polls — have shown a similarly lacklustre attitude where appointing the ECP members is concerned.
In October, the Islamabad High Court, while hearing a petition on the government’s controversial attempt to unilaterally appoint the two provincial ECP members, had asked: “Can parliament not even solve such a small issue?”
The government and opposition must give the ECP the importance it deserves by appointing the CEC and provincial members without further delay.
As the case of the services chiefs’ legislation shows, when the politicians put their minds to it, they can get the job done within record time.


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