ISLAMABAD, Oct 14 (APP): Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Protection and Poverty Alleviation Dr. Sania Nishtar Wednesday said Pakistan’s government took timely and courageous decision of providing social protection to nearly half of its population through disbursing direly needed cash assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic that resulted in massive loss of livelihoods.
She was addressing a webinar, “How can we reduce inequalities in later life as societies aged?”co-organized by Asian Development Bank, HelpAge International and ESCAP.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Nishtar said the pandemic negatively impacted 160 million families in response to which Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program has disbursed cash assistance to around 15 million distressed families.
Dr. Nishtar recommended that the sustainability of any social protection program depends on poverty surveys, catastrophic expenditure estimates, and livelihoods loss data on which we started working even before the pandemic.
“We have accelerated the work on National Socio-Economic Registry (NSER) survey keeping in view the pandemic outcomes as well as decided to expand the scope of emergency cash assistance and increase the number of shelters”, she said.
Dr. Nishtar conveyed how the health and nutrition cash transfer centers under Nashaunuma initiative were launched for mother and children facing stunted growth issue, in the middle of pandemic.
While the Ehsaas program also continued to benefit the students belonging to the marginalized sections of society.
Dr. Nishtar said social protection programs for the vulnerable sections of society and critical investments in digital infrastructure were indispensable for all the countries during the pandemic losses.
About the COVID impact in Pakistan, Dr. Nishtar was of the view that the social structure, cultural values and a strong family system in Pakistan has also contributed towards mitigating the effects of COVID-19 resulting in reduced number of cases.
She said majority of the families in our country have a single bread earner who used to go outside for earning money to feed own family as well as his parents which limit the social interaction.
About the reason for less ratio of affected elderly persons due to COVID in Pakistan, Dr. Nishtar said the elderly people mostly lived with their children in Pakistan who take care of them.
While in the western world, the elderly people stay at old home which increases the risk of catching the virus.
She said the demographic factor and the cultural shield protected the country throughout the pandemic.
She said there was no standard policy prescription for the elderly people across the world, “Different policies are workable in different environments and contexts”, she said.
She said health systems in the countries are the main building blocks on which the Universal Health Coverage depends and this varies from country to country.
While the other factors like fiscal space and population size etc also contribute to the improvement of health system, she said.
The solutions to improve the health systems across the world should be locally tailored according to the needs of different cultures and societies, she added.
The objective of the webinar, taking Asia’s population ageing into consideration, is to strengthen clarity and consensus about the priority steps governments can take to reduce inequality among older people in two dimensions: healthy longevity and income security.
Alongside the presentation by the Professor of Economics and Demography from Harvard University Dr. David E. Bloom, , SAPM Dr. Sania Nishtar was joined by Senior Advisor at the Khazanah Research Institute Malaysia Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram.
The panel discussion was a true highlight of the webinar with practical national and sub-national level experience and global perspectives.
The webinar was attended by the national governments in Asia, including representatives from ministries responsible for social affairs and welfare, health, education, labour and human resources development, local governments, home affairs, as well as other concerned ministries; other civil society organizations, as well as private sector entities with experience in working with older persons, and academics and research institutions engaged in generating data and research on the situation of older people and in influencing policy makers.
The focus of the discussion was on public policies and systems – that is, the role of governments.
The post-pandemic period presents an opportunity to conceptualize how “building back better” focusing on middle-income countries in Asia, though as appropriate drawing on lessons from high-income countries and suggesting future directions for low-income countries.
The largest regional intergovernmental platform with 53 Member States and 9 associate members, ESCAP has emerged as strong regional think-tank offering countries sound analytical products that shed insight into the evolving economic, social and environmental dynamics of the region.