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The recently suspended Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC) is the regulatory body of medical doctors that, since 1962, has registered all qualified medical practitioners. It also regulates medical colleges and universities to ensure quality of teaching, besides regulating a number of other medical institutions like nursing schools. In the early decades after 1962, there was no compromise on the quality and quantity of medical graduates. But in the last two decades, the proliferation of medical colleges and universities (run like businesses), from 34 to about 144, has dangerously compromised the quality of medical graduates.

Since PMDC has been taken over by vested interest groups, dozens of medical institutions of compromised quality have opened all over the country in a short period of time. The council hasn’t even been following its own laid down rules and regulations.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, on the appeal of the Pakistan Medical Association, intervened to rectify the situation, and an ordinance was introduced by President Mamnoon Hussain in 2015 dissolving the council and ordering new elections for its office holders. After these were held, a 35-member executive body came to manage PMDC. This ordinance was passed by the National Assembly but deferred by the Senate to the Council of Common Interests, which decides on controversial issues among the federating units. The vested interest groups were not happy about it, and went to the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the dissolution of the PMDC executive body, which was not looking after their interests fully.

The Supreme Court dissolved the executive body on January 12, 2018. It also appointed a nine-member ad hoc council to run the affairs of PMDC and ordered its first meeting to be held on January 18. Still, there appear to be no reforms in sight: no timeline has been put in place for the ad hoc council, which suits the vested interest groups, who have made fortunes off PMDC’s lack of proper oversight over such things as the admission test fees, the sale of prospectuses and then the admission process itself, not to mention donations from parents to secure admission. Parents of thousands of potential candidates spend at least 40,000-50,000 rupees at various medical colleges on admission and exam processes. Why can’t we have a civilised and dignified system that does not harass parents and students?

In the past, we have seen a price tag to get a licence to open a medical college. We have 144 medical colleges in our country. Do we have 144 professors or associate/assistant professors for each subject, as per PMDC’s guidelines? Yet PMDC keeps offering admission. There must be a reason for it. We are churning out almost 15,000 doctors a year. How many of them are competent? There is a severe compromise on quality.

Uneducated and unhealthy nations do not survive. Reforming PMDC is a question of national survival.

We need think tanks and a task force to step in and sort this out immediately. The judiciary is already overburdened with thousands of cases at its doorstep.

PMDC should be made an autonomous, independent, strong body, following the pattern of other civilised countries. It should look after the interests of the common citizen, and it should be managed by all stakeholders and professional bodies. Stakeholders themselves must be elected from among dedicated and expert professionals. There is no shortage of efficient individuals. Moreover, a timeline for early elections of an honest, dedicated PMDC council is of paramount importance in order make policy decisions for the long-term.

This article was published in the Herald's February 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.