State of railways
In recent years, the Pakistan Railways has gained notoriety for being accident-prone due to inefficiency, mismanagement and favouritism in recruitment. Conditions have become so bad that a few days ago the association of train drivers has warned that their members will not drive trains because railway tracks have become dangerous to drive on for want of proper maintenance and also due to outdated technology. They have asked the government to work for the rehabilitation of tracks for the safety of passengers and line staff and pay proper attention to rolling stock.
The Supreme Court too has regularly been expressing its dissatisfaction with the affairs of the Pakistan Railways and asking the giant public-sector organisation to improve its functioning. On Thursday, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed emphatically asserted that the railways “is not being operated the way it should be”. Hearing a suo-motu case, the top judge said undoubtedly regulations and manuals according to which trains were to operate were being flouted resulting in frequent accidents and consequent loss of precious human lives. He said improvement in the functioning of the railways did not appear to be in sight. An annoyed chief justice said not only was the railway infrastructure in a state of neglect its employees too were unfit to operate the service. He emphasised the need for overhauling the secretariat-level positions in the railway department from top to bottom to ensure the organisation’s proper functioning.
Not long ago the Pakistan Railways hauled the major freight traffic. Not so any more. Railway official say they have lost most goods haulage because of a shortage of freight trains with the railways. According to the admission of the Railway Minister himself now only 2% of the freight traffic is with the Pakistan Railways. Once the railways was an inexpensive and comfortable mode of travel for middle-class people and a railway journey has its own adventure. Now the fear of accident is keeping people away from train journey.
A recent UN report has suggested that the number of AIDS infections and associated fatalities in Pakistan over the past decade has spiked, even as it declined in other regional countries. The UNAIDS report says that countries, such as Australia, Cambodia and Thailand have managed to lower AIDS-related fatalities by 29% since 2010. Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Philippines, though, saw fatalities rise during this period. Also of concern was the fact that more than a quarter of new infections was amongst young people between 15-24 years of age. Homosexual relations between men and a rise in drug use are among the leading causes. Another reason is the low coverage of the needle-syringe programme while opioid substitution therapy services are either not available or their coverage is 10% or lower. The report suggests that this period of rising cases coincides with a decline in political and programmatic commitment, alongside punitive laws and policies and rising stigma and discrimination that block effective AIDS response.
According to Parliamentary Secretary for Health Dr Nausheen Hamid, there are an estimated 183,000 AIDS patients in the country; and of them, 25, patients are registered and provided free treatment at 45 centres nationwide. She concedes that the stigma attached to AIDS means people prefer to conceal the disease and only seek testing and treatment when in critical condition. The impacts of stigma, poor practices of reusing medical equipment — whether in drug or clinical settings — along with certain social practices have already led to the outbreak in Larkana recently. Our AIDS programme was never a top priority but the emergence of several other health emergencies seem to have pushed this one to the backburner and would have collapsed without support from the civil society and donor organisations. Like some other diseases, the government needs to treat AIDS as a medical emergency and increase testing and treatment coverage.
India and UN’s rights report