The founder president and chief executive officer of Shifa International Hospital Dr. Zaheer Ahmad, who inspired a revolutionary change in the private health care sector of Pakistan through his stellar accomplishments, breathed his last here early Friday morning. He was 63.
It was the evening of Wednesday, September 28, Dr. Zaheer was attending a gathering at Marriott, where he collapsed after suffering a massive brain haemorrhage. So extensive was the damage that he instantly plunged into a coma, never to regain consciousness. Dr. Zaheer was buried in the Islamabad graveyard in Sector H-8/1.
Dr. Zaheer s death has shaken the very foundation of the Shifa Family, which has lost a far-sighted manager and a passionate and friendly mentor. Pakistan s loss is no less grave. The country has been deprived of a patriotic Pakistani and an acclaimed visionary who abandoned a lucrative career in the United States and shifted to Islamabad to pay back to his motherland by establishing a tertiary care facility governed by a culture of private healthcare provision previously unheard of in this part of the world.
Born in 1948, Dr. Zaheer did his Master s in Pharmacy from the University of Punjab and MD in Internal Medicine from West Indies. He conceived the idea of Shifa in mid-1985 upon completion of his internal medicine residency. To take it forward, he invited four other US-based Pakistani professionals Dr. Manzoor H. Qazi, Muhammad Zahid, Samiulla Sharief and Dr. Sabir Ali to his apartment in Brooklyn, where they approved the project plan. Dr. Zaheer prepared a feasibility report, shifted to Islamabad in December 1985, and selected the present site for the project.
Dr. Zaheer established the first Shifa office in his own residence in F-8/3. Shifa s foundation ceremony took place on October 6, 1989, and within three and a half years, the hospital s 65 ft. high Block-A structure with a covered area of 70,000 square feet was ready to take its first patient. There has been no looking back ever since. Led by Dr. Zaheer, Shifa s team of founders and sponsors kept expanding from across the globe. By the time of its opening on June 26, 1993, the hospital had crossed 400 plus sponsors, with Rs500 million equity, and according to the its Corporate Report 2011, the hospital has not-till this time-borrowed a single rupee from any other source.
With a humble start comprising eight consultants in seven specialties, Shifa today has more than 70 highly-qualified consultants on its roll in almost all specialties. Moreover, aside from the hospital s Blocks A and B, the partially constructed Blocks C and G sprawling on its site are efficiently functioning on a covered area of 315,000 square feet. At a time when financial constraints are forcing the government and charitable institutions to reduce the spectrum of their services and withdraw subsidies to patients, Dr. Zaheer continued to work on expansion of services. He also established a robust mechanism, the Shifa Foundation, in support of thousands of needy patients, offering them subsidised healthcare worth millions of rupees on an annual basis. It was under his leadership that Shifa earned the distinction of being the first private hospital in Pakistan to be taken on the Bait-ul-Mal panel.
Dr. Zaheer attributed Pakistan s dismal healthcare status to a vision crisis, rather than mere absence of resources, or a gap in demand and supply. There is a vision crisis plaguing the decision-making process; it is imperative to foresee the healthcare needs of the nation and to get the system geared into meeting those demands, Dr. Zaheer is quoted as having said. He always spoke of the need for public-private partnership to take on the daunting challenge of provision of adequate healthcare services to communities. Dr. Zaheer always urged the government to take measures to encourage private investment in healthcare services by offering tax holidays and exemptions; and to play the role of a facilitator by providing energy and other infrastructure requirements of private healthcare providers.
Although predominantly involved in the health sector, Dr. Zaheer s vision was not restricted to health. Another of his dreams that met fruition during his lifetime was the establishment of a network of educational institutions for underprivileged children residing in the country s remote areas. This was achieved from the platform of the Tameer-e-Millat Foundation (TMF), which started its first school in Khewra in 1987. Today, thousands of children are getting education in TMF schools in all five provinces of the country. The Foundation is running 68 model schools, 7 vocational training centres, four technical training institutes, and 295 community primary schools. One of the mega projects conceived by Dr. Zaheer is the Tameer-e-Millat City of Education, which is located on 425 acres on Ratwal Road, district Attock, and is envisioned to become a centre of quality education. It houses the TM School of Excellence for Boys, the TM Model School for Girls, the Tameer-e-Jannat Science School, which is a residential schooling system for victimized children affected by natural disasters in Pakistan, and the TM Institute of Technology, which offers short and 3-year diploma courses to produce associate engineers. One of the TM projects conceived by Dr. Zaheer and currently in the pipeline is the Shifa Tameer-e-Millat University (STMU), which, upon approval, will be an independent degree-awarding university.
A person of lesser mettle may not achieve in a lifetime, what Dr. Zaheer has accomplished in just two decades. He probably knew time was short. The journey that Dr. Zaheer had embarked upon was never-ending, terminated only by his own premature death. Even though the vacuum created by his absence will be difficult to fill, the legacy that he has left behind will stand the test of time to remind posterity of the priceless contributions of a patriotic Pakistani who came, who saw, and who conquered. May Allah rest his soul in eternal peace. (Ameen)