Expanding the healthcare umbrella

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  • PTI’s version of welfare national health service

Among the social indicators of a country’s human resource development, health and education facilities available to the masses occupy prominent positions. Unfortunately these benchmark gauges are the most neglected in our polity since decades. Consequently, those lacking adequate financial resources and compelled to visit crowded government hospitals, are presented with scenes of utter chaos, absence of doctors, non-availability of free medicines and a hostile environment, with even junior medical staff treating them with disdain. A tragic collateral damage of this state of affairs is the forced recourse of the poorer segments of society to all manner of quacks, ‘pirs’ and exorcists, entrapped by the latter’s bragging of a cheap ‘panacea’ for all ills under the sun, but which mostly leads on to a much darker and silent place.

When not fixated in the anti-corruption groove alone, the ruling PTI’s manifesto also professes turning the country into a welfare state and in that endeavour, the target populace obviously comprises the vast majority of marginalised citizens, especially those surviving miserably below the poverty line on as little as $2 daily income. To provide some urgent relief, the PM on Monday launched an ambitious National Health Programme, the Sehat Insaf Card, covered by an insurance scheme, that initially encompasses needy families of Islamabad, the erstwhile FATA belt, possibly Tharparkar in Sindh, with about 10 million to be provided the health facility in Punjab reportedly within three months, and with every citizen receiving a health card by 2030. An annual medical limit of Rs720,000 is available to each deserving family, which is sufficient to cover most ailments, including surgeries, Rs10,000 for funeral expenses and Rs1,000 for each hospital visit. The service providers will include both government hospitals and approved private clinics. To test efficacy of the system in practice, and to fool-proof it against misuse, relevant data from all the concerned organisations, Nadra, Benazir Income Support Programme, Bait-ul Maal and Zakat would be closely coordinated and merged. Welcome health relief of this magnitude is unprecedented, and needs to be extended to the entire country on top priority basis. Building promised new hospitals and extending these health benefits will enhance the overall positive impact on poverty alleviation.