Prime Minister Imran Khan has announced the commencement of the Naya Pakistan Qaumi Sehat Card scheme, a Rs.450 billion initiative to introduce universal health care.
The Sehat Card will cover medical bills for struggling families, including from the private hospitals which the prime minister bemoaned only ‘serve the elites.’ According to some reports, private sector hospitals serve up to 70 per cent of the total population in Pakistan.
“We will be an example to the world of what a welfare state is,” the prime minister announced at a launch ceremony in Islamabad on Wednesday.
Under the program, all families in Islamabad, Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan, and Tharparkar will be eligible to access free medical care from government and private hospitals, with the aim to provide under-privileged citizens with adequate healthcare.
“This will prove a defining moment in improvement of healthcare services in Pakistan,” the prime minister said, noting that many rural areas lacked comprehensive medical services, which tend to be concentrated in major cities.
Historically, Pakistan has underspent on its national healthcare services. According to World Health Organization (WHO) advisor on Universal Health Coverage Zafar Mirza, between 2017-18, Pakistan spent just $45 per person on health, while neighboring Iran spent $484 and Qatar spent $1,716 per capita. Of this total per capita health expenditure in Pakistan, the government only provided $14, whereas the remaining $28 were spent out of pocket with just $3 coming from external sources.