KARACHI: It was in 2015 when Ejaz Ahmed, a blind private school teacher, found out that his only child required an expensive cardiac surgery to save his life – something he could not afford.
Taha, his child, was only seven years old. Fortunately, Ahmed came to know about a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Unified Liaison for Promotion of Health and Advanced Treatment (Ulphat), which worked for infants and children who needed such surgical treatment. Ulphat subsequently supported the family and bore all the surgical costs for Taha at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).
Talking to The Express Tribune, Ahmed says the moral, technical and financial assistance that Ulphat provided to his family was exemplary. Ulphat had been instrumental in helping his son recover from a condition, which could have otherwise taken his life.
“Parents are willing to take the small risk of surgery in order to avert the bigger threat to their child inflicted with a fatal illness,” Ahmed says.
Setting it up
Ulphat is the brainchild of Dr Nuzhat Faruqui, who is currently serving as an assistant professor at AKUH.
In 2009, Dr Faruqui returned from the United States to start her own practice in Karachi. The idea of setting up an NGO to assist the surgical procedures for children of destitute families came to her after a particular incident.
Dr Faruqui recalls how that single incident provided the impetus to establish the organisation. “One of my family friends was posted in Swat in 2009,” she narrates. “He called me and said there was a child with a hole in his heart and if he did not get surgical treatment, he would die.” In response to the call, she discussed the case with a paediatric cardiac surgeon at AKUH who informed her that if the parents were Zakat-eligible, half of the surgical expenses at AKUH would be waived off. However, rest of the cost had to be still borne by the family.
“I texted five of my friends and within half an hour got a guarantee from them of the remaining Rs150,000,” says Dr Faruqui. “The child came to AKUH for the surgery and returned to his family after 15 days, healthy and smiling.”
Dr Faruqui was overwhelmed by the altruism of the donors. “I was amazed at how easy it was to get money from the affluent and provide treatment free of [charge] to the disadvantaged,” she says.
After detailed deliberations, she founded Ulphat in collaboration with some of her physician colleagues.
The road so far
An acronym in English, Ulphat has a much deeper meaning in Urdu, which is love and affection. Today, a team of more than 20 physicians and surgeons comprises Ulphat. And that is not all. The NGO features the prominent names of Justice (retd) Wajeehuddin and Anwar Maqsood as patrons. With the commitment to serve the people of Pakistan, the organisation is registered with the social welfare department of the Government of Sindh.
Dr Faruqui states that while there were some NGOs that were working in primary health care sector, there was none providing relief in paediatric surgery. Therefore, Ulphat decided to enter that neglected domain.
Sharing the statistics, Dr Faruqui says her team has treated almost 450 paediatric patients all over Pakistan suffering from complex diseases that require surgery with an expenditure of Rs300,000 to Rs600,000 per patient. Around 70% of the cases were of cardiac surgery while 30% belonged to gastrointestinal and cleft palate surgeries.
Sharing the organisation’s mission and vision, Dr Faruqui says, “Our aim is to provide free treatment to every child with a congenital surgical condition [so that they can] contribute back to the society.”
She adds, “We do not want any single Pakistani child with a complex surgical condition to be left untreated due to lack of funds. We have regular donors and every single year, the cases of paediatric surgeries facilitated by us are increasing.”
Helping impoverished ailing children has been a very satisfying experience for Dr Faruqui. “I still recollect the experience of fulfilment when I recall a girl whose cardiac condition was diagnosed in an Ulphat medical camp at Sujawal,” she says. “The girl, and later six more children in the same vicinity, benefited from free surgical care.”