Ethical dilemmas of health care in the developing nations

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Limited resources, widespread poverty, and the absence of health insurance pose daily ethical problems for Third World physicians, who must balance their roles as individual patient advocates against a desire to provide health care to the greatest number of children. Pakistan has a per capita income of Rs. 7,220 (US$ 380) per year, or Rs. 800 (US$ 32) per month. The annual population growth of the country is 3.1%, and approximately 360,000 infants are born each year in Karachi, the largest city in the country. The Aga Khan University Hospital, a private teaching institution, is the only hospital in Karachi with a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The financial and medical data of 200 infants admitted to the NICU in 1988 were reviewed retrospectively, and compared with those of two specific subgroups. (1) Among 15 infants who underwent surgical intervention, the average total cost of hospitalization was Rs. 36,040 (US$ 1,900) per patient, with an average daily cost of Rs. 923 (US$ 49). The longest hospital stay was 6 months, for a child who had total colonic aganglionosis associated with a short gut syndrome. There were two deaths in this group. (2) Of the 21 premature neonates admitted having Idiopathic Respiratory Distress Syndrome (IRDS) during this period, the total hospitalization cost per patient was Rs. 23,260 (US$ 788), with a daily cost of Rs. 1,050 (US$ 55). Eleven patients required ventilatory support. There were 16 survivors. Among both groups, 6% of all revenues generated in the NICU were used to help families pay for the bills under a welfare scheme.


Journal of Pediatric Surgery