We are essentially familiar with the healthcare situation for the vast majority in our country. The poor in Pakistan often have nothing to fall back on if a family member falls sick. A serious illness and the costs involved in treatment can destroy households, plunging them into financial and emotional crises. Given this, the National Health Insurance scheme, announced by the prime minister on July 14 after a meeting of the steering committee on health, comes as good news, a kind of early Eid present to the people. It is in so many ways the best present they could possibly have received.
The insurance plan, for which Rs1 billion had been set aside in the budget will initially cover 3.1 million families in 23 districts spread out across all four provinces, as well as in Gilgit-Baltistan and the tribal areas. The scheme will become operational towards the end of the year. The least developed areas have, in most cases, been given priority, and people offered cover against a vast variety of conditions, including heart-related maladies and diabetes. The federal government has for the first time provided such cover for health for the poor in the country. We must now hope this initiative can work effectively and provide people the kind of security and protection they need. Good implementation is vital. The plans of governments have faltered on this score far too often in the past. There is no room for failure this time around.
There is also another issue that should be kept in mind. At present, our public-sector healthcare facilities are in a shambles. Even in major cities, hospitals do not always function efficiently. They are poorly staffed, poorly equipped and unable to meet needs. In smaller towns and rural areas, the conditions are of course considerably worse. As the health insurance plan goes into effect, it is important also to see there is a provision for quality. Offering people substandard care will not solve their problems and this, too, is an aspect that needs to be worked on by the government’s health managers as the insurance scheme with such huge potential becomes a reality for millions.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2015.
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