Pakistan: Absence of medical research

Daily: Global Village Space
Date: 11.05.20

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare a reality. Medical research is supreme to
medical practice. The pandemic has exposed two major fault lines existing in the field of
medicine. First, there has been over-reliance on medical practice and under-reliance on
medical research. Second, without medical research, medical practice is a banality.

Globally, there are more medical practitioners than there are medical researchers, just
because medical practice yields financial and career benefits more than medical research
does. Nevertheless, the pandemic dictates that at the forefront of medical research and
ancillary to it is the practice of medicine. Ironically, medical practitioners are advising
prevention, which is not tantamount to medical practice. Instead, practitioners are supposed
to treat. Thousands of COVID-19 infected patients have lost their lives despite being
surrounded by the best medical practitioners.

Hitherto, Pakistanis have not heard the name of any Pakistani doctor working in the UK or
the US in medical research coming up with some medicinal solution for COVID-19. They
might be excellent practitioners but not decent medical researchers. The reason is that
major post-graduate medical exams, name any, are based on the parroting and
regurgitating of knowledge. Novelty, innovation and experimentation are altogether missing.

Tug of war: KEMU vs UHS

In Punjab, Lahore is the worst-hit city by COVID-19. In Lahore, there are two main medical
universities: King Edward Medical University (KEMU) and University of Health Sciences
(UHS). Both were founded to advance medical education and medical research in Pakistan
and both have been consuming millions of public money every year to run their affairs. At
this juncture of the COVID-19 crisis, it is significant to take an overview of their performance.

Taking advantage of the presence of the military dictator General Pervez Musharraf at the
helm of affairs, certain influential professors carved out the UHS in 2002 from the University
of the Punjab. In its wake, a tug of war ensued, as the administration of the then King
Edward Medical College refused to submit to the UHS. Resultantly, in 2005, the KEMU also
came into being.

To ensure its survival, the UHS did four things. First, the university kept its monopoly over
conducting yearly medical entry examination throughout Punjab. Second, the university
secured the affiliations of most dental and medical colleges in Punjab. Third, the university
sought affiliation with various universities of the world. Fourth, the university put in place a
public relations department to manage the media in favour of the university. All the four
factors are still the reason for the survival of the UHS.

There is also a competition between both the universities to secure more and more budget
from the Punjab Government. For the financial year 2019-2020, the estimated expenditures
of the UHS are 1, 383.277 million rupees compared to the estimated expenditures of the
KEMU that stands at 1, 329.286 million rupees.

The declared aim of both the universities was to bring qualitative and quantitative revolution
in medical education and research in Pakistan. Section 4 (i) of the UHS Ordinance of 2002
said, “The University shall have powers to … make provision for research and the
advancement and dissemination of knowledge in such manner as it may determine.”

Interestingly, the same point was copied by Section 4 (a) of the KEMU Act of 2005 saying,
“The University shall … make provision for research and the advancement and
dissemination of knowledge in such manner as it may determine.” This was how the copy
and paste phenomenon took birth in these universities, which claimed to conduct medical
research to justify their being universities. Both universities established research centres
inside their premises to make Pakistan sell sufficient.

Contribution of KEMU and UHS against Covid-19

Not many Pakistanis know that, for at least 15 years, there has been functional a full-
fledged Department of Immunology in the UHS and a huge Department of Pathology in the
KEMU dedicated to performing research related to microorganisms and human body’s
defence. There is present a full establishment of professors, lecturers, research students
and staff. Both departments are replete with medical research equipment catering to the
latest research needs.

Against the backdrop of all the claims and the consumption of public money, the question is
this: what is the contribution of both the universities and the specific departments in
ameliorating the plight of the Pakistanis in the COVID-19 crisis? The answer is nil.

In principle, both universities and their relevant departments should have been competing
with each other to excel in discovering a drug or vaccine. Instead, both departments are
quiescent while the universities’ spokespersons are just managing the media to ward it off.
Media management is counted as a big success. Further, both universities are available for
disseminating how to prevent the spread of the disease and that by translating into Urdu
the news published in the western countries: this is the level both universities have been
reduced to. Not a single word on therapy.

Money spent in the name of research

A look at the curriculum vitae of the professors and vice-chancellors of these universities
show that they are individually no less than a genius with a claim of no fewer than one
hundred research articles to the credit of each of them. No professor or researcher from
the two departments has published any research article so far to express their knowledge,
effort or expertise on the pathology or the immunological treatment of COVID-19.

The tragedy is that no one in Pakistan, who has been contributing to the national
exchequer by paying taxes yearly, is ready to hold these universities and their relevant
departments answerable for the money spent in the name of research. Otherwise, it is
known that both universities tolerate the malpractice of professors to repeat research
experiments already performed in other parts of the world, and earn scientific credit to claim
for departmental promotions.

Under their supervision, research students tread the same path to earn a degree. The
students just have to devise a method to save their articles or theses from escaping the
eyes of the software employed for detecting plagiarism. This is why, at this hour of crisis,
either all such professors and researchers are silent or they are busy in making claims to
have made a headway in filtering antibodies from the blood (or plasma) of COVID-19
patients for passive therapy. That is it. Unfortunately, no one can work on manufacturing a
drug or making an antibody to treat the COVID-19 patients. Neither the patients nor the
media hold them answerable for their ineptitude and incapacity.

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