When I stood up to address the Health Road Show organised by the Punjab government in London on a chilly evening on September 10, I was overwhelmed by the inspirational stories of hard work and devotion of Pakistan’s diaspora community.
The idea of organising the Health Road Show in London was to give the stakeholders an overview of the vast opportunities within the health sector and the possibilities of win-win collaborations with the Punjab government. Above all, we had gathered for a larger cause: to serve the suffering masses and prioritise patient care.
All of us go through sobering and defining moments in our lives that help us look at the world around us differently. My moment came when I was diagnosed with cancer in 2003.
My fight against cancer helped me recognise that access to quality healthcare services is not a privilege but a fundamental right. Though I am known as someone who is committed to brick and mortar, the fact is that my heart lies in the development of the social sector, particularly the provisions of quality healthcare and educational facilities. Through the sustained efforts of my team, Punjab is marching in this right direction. However many challenges still remain.
I went to the UK to seek assistance and cooperation from our friends, partners and members of our own community. Currently, Punjab has a population of 110 million. Catering to demands of this burgeoning population is not an easy task. Regardless of how well-equipped the public health system is there is always a room for improvement. The gap between the availability of healthcare facilities and the rising demand is what keeps me on my toes.
Punjab is open for investment in all sectors of its economy, especially in the health sector. We are encouraging the private sector to collaborate with the government. You will have the space and the support of the government, to strategise, plan and expand your investments and business ventures.
Public-private partnership is a mission statement in the health sector through which we seek to pool our resources together to establish win-win partnerships. In case you want to bring your capital to Punjab, you have a lucrative set of opportunities. All business models are on the table.
You will have the best facilities. You will get attractive sites in the heart of the major cities to construct your health facilities. The government will process your applications under a one-window facility. I will personally supervise all processes. You have my pledge that no red tape will be allowed to impede the process. There will be complete transparency in all transactions.
The foundation of our engagement should be laid in complete honesty. It is important to have an idea of the rot that had seeped in the health sector. It is after we have a clear understanding of the magnitude of the challenge that we can identify what needs to be done.
In 2015, our local labs approved and certified 99.9 percent samples of the medicines. When I sent them to the UK drug laboratories for testing, 33 percent of them were rejected for being substandard. This led the Punjab government to set up a drug test lab in Lahore.
Punjab procures medicines of $60 million per annum in a transparent manner. After they are tested by the local labs, the medicines are sent abroad for certification in four or five other international labs. Quality medicines are being provided free of charge to patients across all public hospitals in Punjab.
The same goes for costly hospital equipment. The vested interests and mafias had rendered MRI and CT scan machines nonfunctional and the patients were left with no choice but to carry out costly tests from outside. Now the Punjab government plans to procure 30 CT scan machines under a public-private partnership. After these machines are installed, people will have a 24-hour facility in their areas.
Similarly, there was no concept of organised and efficient janitorial services. With the outsourcing of these services, cleanliness at hospitals has improved. Around 15 janitorial services have been introduced at public hospitals. Likewise, companies have been hired to dispose of toxic waste at hospitals.
There was no concept of third-party certification in the health sector. Punjab is the first province that has introduced the validation of operations by the third parties. This has helped ensure transparency and improve the quality of healthcare services.
It is unfortunate that there is no state-of-the-art biomedical workshop that is responsible for maintaining hospital machinery and equipment. Work has been initiated on this project.
In Punjab, we are looking for quality human resources to address the rising demands in different health services. The government is seeking qualified human resources with specialties in different categories. We are flexible when it comes to the recruitment of human resources as per their skill set and knowledge base.
I have listed some of the areas above that are ripe for investment. The government is working on a holistic reform agenda to set the health governance system right through coordinated policies. However, there is a vast space for the private sector to step in, partner with the government and improve health facilities.
Healthcare reforms are not a catchy slogan but a matter of deep personal commitment. Finances are not a problem when it comes to the provision of quality healthcare to the people. For the last nine years, we have never witnessed a paucity of funds to finance health services out of our own provincial resources.
I would request you to support me in introducing a health system that works and delivers quality healthcare to the people. I cannot do it alone. I want you to become my tango partners. It’s a team effort.
This article has been excerpted from the keynote speech that the Punjab chief minister delivered at the Punjab Health Road Show in London on September 10.
The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.