Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif launched on Thursday a state-run health insurance programme and described it as the first step towards making Pakistan a welfare state.
Initially, the initiative has been launched for the benefit of people of Islamabad, but later on it will be expanded to all parts of Punjab, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), according to officials.
People of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not benefit from the initiative because their governments have declined to become part of the federal government programme. Titled the “PM’s National Health Programme”, the scheme has been launched in 15 districts of Islamabad in the first phase and will be expanded to 23 districts in the second phase. Around 1.2 million families will get free healthcare facilities in the first phase. At the launching ceremony, Mr Sharif said that under the programme, people living below the poverty line would be able to get best possible treatment at government’s expense. “I wish those provinces which are not part of the programme (Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) also join the scheme.
It is not a matter of politics…,” the prime minister said. He said the programme would benefit 3.2 million families living in Punjab, Balochistan and Fata in its two phases and a social mobilisation campaign would be launched to ensure registration of all deserving people under the scheme. “People sell their property and household items for medical treatment of their loved ones, but this will not happen anymore,” he said, adding that the government would take strict action in case of complaints of corruption and wrongdoing in the scheme.
Mr Sharif praised the efforts of Maryam Nawaz and State Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar for the programme’s preparation and launching. Most countries in the region, including Afghanistan, have started health insurance programmes on the recommendation of the World Health Organisation. About 55 per cent of Pakistanis earn less than $2 a day and the government has decided to provide health insurance cover to all such people in phases and the data of the Benazir Income Support Programme will be used for the purpose, according to an official.
About the scheme, NHS Secretary Ayub Sheikh said: “We will learn from our experiences in Islamabad and will ensure that the programme is error-free and transparent whenever it is launched in other areas of the two provinces and Fata in the next phase. “As soon as a patient is admitted to a hospital, a representative of the State Life Insurance Corporation (SLIC) will pay him/her a visit and when the number of patients crosses 15, another SLIC official will be sent there.”