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PM Khan govt aggressively expands Sehat Card across Punjab

PTI govt's health card aims to save Pakistanis from what WHO calls the 'health shocks' that push masses into extreme poverty. Will this initiative be decisive for PTI's victory in next election?

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PTI government under PM Imran Khan was proactive in spreading its universal health coverage – under Sehat Sahulat Program (SSP) – across Punjab in February.

On 1st Feb, PM was in Bahawalpur inaugurating health card for a region in South Punjab that has been long considered one of the most underdeveloped and neglected area in country’s richest province where human development has mostly remained Lahore centric over the past several decades.

Bahawalpur inauguration extended the free health coverage, of Rs. 1 million per year, to another 2.29 million families (almost 8-9 million people). Punjab has nine administrative divisions and 36 districts. With Bahawalpur almost 63% of the population is now covered.

Read more: The reality of Sehat Insaf Card

On 9 February, PM was inaugurating his universal health coverage in Faisalabad extending the facility to another three million families bringing total coverage to 73%.

On 22nd Feb, Multan division will be added bringing another 3.88 million families under the ambit of free health scheme and its coverage to almost 86% of the population.

Gujranwala and Sargodha will be added by 31st March bringing 30 million (100% population) families of Punjab under the Sehat Sahulat Program.

DG Khan and Sahiwal were the first divisions of Punjab to avail the facility in May 2021 and Lahore and Rawalpindi were added in January 2022. KP, AJK, GB and Islamabad (ICT) have already been covered.

Figures shared by the SSP program reveal that till now 560 hospitals have joined the scheme and more than 700,000 indoor admissions have taken place under this program. All surgical facilities, from minor procedures to cardiac bypass – are being offered under the program.

Health expenditures – often referred to as Health Shocks by WHO – have been cited as one of the biggest destabilizing events for poor and lower middle-class families. It is expected that Sehat Sahulat Program will help bring a sense of security across Pakistani populations. Anecdotal accounts from public interaction and through social media portals indicate that health scheme has already started to produce a positive impact on human lives.

Read more: Sehat Sahulat Program: The incredible story of Universal Health Coverage in Pakistan

Only Sindh and Baluchistan are still outside the program. Sindh has PPP government and Baluchistan has a coalition rule. While Sindh has not shown any interest in the program, federal government may be able to persuade Baluchistan to become part of the health program.

In a poor country like Pakistan this concept and its implementation is a huge achievement for a political government. Britain’s NHS program and health programs of EU member countries are impressive but those are extremely affluent societies and most members of the United Nations across Asia, Africa, and South America have yet to implement something like Pakistan’s Sehat Sahulat Program.

Prime Minister’s personal interest in the health program can be gauged by the fact that between 3rd and 6th Feb, he was in Beijing attending Winter Olympics and meeting Chinese leadership including President Xi Jinping and PM Le Keqiang and top corporate decision makers.

On 8th Feb he was in Naushki, Baluchistan to meet the troops who came under terror attack on in the first week of February and on 9th he was in Faisalabad. PTI government considers universal health coverage its important election pledge. Will this help party’s performance in forthcoming local government elections in Punjab and later in 2023 general elections remains to be seen.

Read more: PM Khan to launch Sehat Card for Faisalabad

While PM’s universal health insurance is a huge achievement of his economically troubled government but mainstream media – focused on political statements of one or the other side – has mostly ignored an initiative that is transforming lives of common men and women across Pakistan.

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