Election budget freeze puts lives of poor patients in jeopardy

Published: August 2, 2018
Hepatitis C patient Mohammad Imran, in need of a liver transplant, lies in hospital waiting for approval of funds from PM’s secretariat. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Hepatitis C patient Mohammad Imran, in need of a liver transplant, lies in hospital waiting for approval of funds from PM’s secretariat. PHOTO: EXPRESS

ISLAMABAD / LAHORE: For the poorest of poor suffering from grave ailments, critical financial support from the government can at times prove to be the difference between life and death. But time for a Balochistan native seeking treatment in the capital could be running out with funds frozen for the elections.

Mohammad Imran hails from the Malazei village in the impoverished district of Pishin in Balochistan. He had been diagnosed with hepatitis C three months ago. Since then his condition deteriorated such that the 22-year-old intermediate student requires a liver transplant.

With facilities lacking in Balochistan, his family moved him to the federal capital in the hopes of securing better treatment.

He was admitted to the Quaid-i-Azam Hospital where the doctors described his condition to be critical. Doctors say that they require Rs7 million for the liver transplant to save Imran.

This is money that Imran’s family does not have.

In desperation, they turned to the Prime Minister’s Fatal Disease Programme which gives money to perform critical but costly procedures for the most deserving patients.

Last year, the prime minister’s office dispensed Rs1.84 billion for treating 792 patients in the four provinces, the federal capital, Azad Jammu Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. Of this, the biggest chunk of Rs884.85 million was spent on liver transplants for 228 patients or around Rs3.88 million per transplant.

Money is released once the Baitul Maal recommends treatment of patients on a case basis or cases are directly brought to the notice of the premier.

Imran’s case was also sent to the prime minister’s secretariat for processing. However, owing to elections, the fund has been frozen for the past two months and the summary has been awaiting the caretaker premier’s approval.

“We cannot do anything in this case as Imran’s treatment requires a large sum of money.

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The Baitul Mal directly provide Rs5,000 but larger sums need to be cleared by the prime minister after the recommendation of the Baitul Mal,” said a senior official at the Baitul Mal, adding that the timing of Imran’s case was unfortunate since the premier’s hands were tied owing to the election restrictions.

This was confirmed by the Baitul Mal Legal Director Dr Javed Iqbal who said that Imran’s case was one of many which have been pending owing to the budget freeze.

Dr Iqbal explained that the freeze was instituted to prevent the use of public money for any form of pre-poll rigging.

Conceding that the freeze had affected a number of patients who have been suffering from various fatal diseases, Dr Iqbal said that with the elections over, the funds are expected to be released but it will take time.

“Rs5 billion were allocated for the Baitul Mal for the current fiscal year. Despite the fact that the new fiscal year had started, funds have yet to be released,” he said.

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Imran’s family, though, notes that he does not have much time but all they can do is wait for the new prime minister-elect to take office and clear the request later this month.

“We are very poor and live in the village and just arrived here with the hope of gaining support from the prime minister,” said Imran’s brother Ikramullah.

Noting that the doctors have provided a window of five days to conduct the transplant, Ikramullah says that they were disappointed to learn that the new prime minister will not be taking an oath before August 10.

“It seems that Imran may have fallen out of the race for his life by then. We are requesting and begging for his life,” Ikramullah cried.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2018.

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