As children, we tried to con our parents into letting us calling in sick at school. We used the excuse of “I am probably coming down with some rare tropical disease that could kill me if I got out of bed.” Amazingly, parents always knew when we were lying and they dropped you off to school despite your protests that you’d probably die during the day. You went to school, moping at your parents’ callousness, even after you had shown every symptom of disease from violent coughing, pretending to throw up to swooning and partial amnesia. Sometimes you put an onion into your armpit, a children’s sure-fire formula for getting a fever (it worked…I mean, never). Of course, there were also those rare occasions when your parents gave in, not necessarily because they actually believed you but such incidents were rare, so they don’t count.
However, it isn’t cute when grown-ups use this gimmick, especially as a cover-up for something. It would be an understatement if I said this is commonplace in Pakistan – from workplace and offices right up to the highest office in the land. Notice that every time the country is faced with an extraordinary crisis, our political leaders develop serious health problems? Usually these illnesses set in all too suddenly, only to vanish just as quickly. They rush to luxury foreign hospitals for treatment because our own hospitals aren’t good enough. To be fair to them, if you can afford it, why take the chance of dying from doctors’ or nurses’ neglect here – which is something plebeian meant for ordinary mortals like you and I.
It’s another matter that if our leaders got sick less often the millions upon millions spent on their foreign medical mollycoddling could be diverted to treating the sick economy, the sick industry, the sick public-sector industries, the sick infrastructure of the country. This money could also be used to save unnecessary loss of life of those who are given the ‘wrong’ medicine as has been the case recently in Lahore, where patients were given wrong medicines for cardiac problems.
But our priorities being what they are, let’s take this further, especially with elections coming up. All potential candidates, for important positions, be they in government or in opposition, should be entitled to free check-ups by foreign medical experts to ascertain they don’t have some serious medical problem that cannot be treated in Pakistan. Unlike the present one, we need a healthy opposition that, when needed, can hold the government accountable, which is something requiring strength, after all.
All these candidates must not only be put through physical tests, they should also undergo stress and psychological tests specially designed to determine how much stress they can bear during parliamentary sessions. And then only those candidates should be allowed to contest the elections that have been given certificates of good health. Among other things, that is likely to translate into a drop of absenteeism among our legislators.
An equally important step to be taken before the elections is to improve the state of the medical sector in Pakistan. More funds and qualified doctors and medical staff and better medical facilities should do the trick. No, I am not suggesting that this should be done for the masses of Pakistan, but for sparing our political leaders time-wasting medical trips abroad. This will ensure that they don’t have to leave the country every time we face a crisis and they are needed here.
As to objections that this will deprive them of foreign trips, there is this advantage: it will make malingering not only easier but also “official.” Each time a leader calls in sick, the Pakistani specialist, unlike a foreign one, will readily issue a certificate confirming that he or she is very sick indeed,