Today, the whole nation is celebrating the birth anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who changed the course of history by single-handedly carving out Pakistan against the combined opposition of the British Raj and the Indian National Congress. The establishment of a new country through sustained political and constitutional struggle was a unique miracle that caught the political pundits unawares.
The political insight and wisdom that the Quaid demonstrated in achieving a homeland on the argument of Muslims being a separate nation has yet to be fully grasped. In this regard, I have yet to come across a more comprehensive tribute to the Quaid’s visionary leadership than what renowned historian Stanley Wolpert wrote in his famous book ‘Jinnah of Pakistan’: “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”
Among other things, the raison d’être that informed the Pakistan movement was the welfare of the common people, giving them equal opportunity for socio-economic mobility. The Quaid envisaged Pakistan to be an egalitarian society and a welfare state. In one of his speeches, he had this to say, “If we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should concentrate on the wellbeing of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. Every one of you, no matter what his colour, caste or creed, is first, second or last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations.”
I have no harm in admitting that Pakistan’s elite of all hues and colours has miserably failed the people of Pakistan particularly the poor and less privileged sections of society. Despite the passage of 70 years, the dream of making Pakistan an egalitarian society has yet to be realised. What is even more worrisome is the spectre of increasing inequality that is ripping apart the social fabric of our society. Socio-economic disparity is at the heart of the various crises that we continue to confront. The elite’s claim to perks and privileges at the cost of the provision of basic facilities to the people threatens to ignite the raging volcano beneath the surface, whose recurring demonstration we see in different forms.
The governance model I have implemented in Punjab is premised on opening greater policy space and allocating more resources for the social sector. This year’s budget has witnessed massive increases for health and education, a step that has been defined as a policy win for the social sector.
The benefits of health reforms go beyond the physical wellbeing of the people. They directly feed into improvement in economic outcomes and productivity of the workforce. Hence, a healthy society is a prosperous society whose members willingly contribute to national development.
Of all the diseases that have widespread prevalence affecting the health of the poor and disadvantaged sections of society, liver and kidney problems top the list. The figures of these diseases are scary to say the least. About 10 million people of Pakistan suffer from hepatitis C and more than five million are infected with hepatitis B. Around 1.2 million people are in need of a liver transplant, whereas three lakh people are confronted with acute emergency. Those who can afford the costly treatment go to India and China for a liver transplant while the poor only wait to meet their Lord for want of quality and affordable medical services.
Keeping in view the grim situation, we decided to set up the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Centre (PKLI) as a flagship project of Punjab. The groundbreaking of multi-billion rupee project was performed in August 2015 and today the inauguration of the first phase of the project is being carried out.
On its completion, the PKLI will eventually be the first state-of-the-art project of South Asia and one of the largest transplant centres in the world. It will have a 800-bed facility extendable to 1500-beds, a 100-bed emergency centre, a 100-bed ICU, a 100-bed outpatient dialysis facility, 500-bed in-patient facility, 20 operating rooms and 10 same-day surgery suites.
In addition to providing employment opportunities to 5000 people, the PKLI will provide free and affordable best medical care to not only residents of Punjab but also our brothers and sisters from other provinces including GB and AJ&K.
In Punjab, we have resolved to achieve the goal of making the province hepatitis-free by 2030 – in line with the WHO commitment. In order to achieve this purpose, Punjab is the first province that has enacted the Punjab Hepatitis Ordinance 2017 that aims to institute an organised mechanism to stop the spread of hepatitis C. Various risk factors responsible for the transmission of hepatitis C are being taken care of under this ordinance.
Punjab has introduced a policy of using auto-disabled syringes at public health facilities across the provinces. This year, 50 percent of the syringes in THQs/DHQs were replaced by auto-disabled syringes. We plan to take the ratio to 90 percent next year, followed by a third-party audit to determine that syringes are being used in the correct manner.
Given the lethality and prevalence of hepatitis C, which exposes patients to liver cancer and liver failure, the Punjab government has launched state-of-the-art Hepatitis Treatment and Prevention Clinics, also called filter clinics, as part of the PKLI project. The government aims to set up 100 such clinics across the province, eight of which are already fully functional. These clinics are well-equipped and well-resourced and have the services of trained liver specialists. The treatment of 24,000 patients is currently underway and the goal is to treat 100,000 patients this year, a number which will increase in years to come.
In order to supplement treatment, the government has adopted an innovative and flexible medicine delivery arrangement whereby via partnership with private courier services medicines will be delivered to the patients at their doorstep.
The idea of setting up the PKLI and Hepatitis Filter Clinics would not have been implemented without the selfless and dedicated support of Dr Saeed Akhar whose single-minded focus and love of humanity has been a game-changer. Dr Akhtar has convinced leading foreign qualified Pakistani doctors living abroad to return to the country and serve the ailing humanity. I cannot thank Dr Saeed Akhtar and his team enough for their devotion to the cause.
A hepatitis-free Punjab is my goal. I am going to employ all my energies and efforts to see the back of this viral disease in the same way as we eliminated dengue in 2011-12. In my view, provision of quality medical services to the people is the best tribute to the Father of the Nation on his birthday.
The writer is the chief minister of Punjab.