No tragedy in the world is more painful than seeing your loved one in agony and feeling helpless about doing something for them. Does this happen rarely? No. It happens too often, especially to those whose access to the means of a better living is restricted.
In a country where almost 60 percent people live below the poverty line, quality education is too expensive and quality healthcare is an unaffordable luxury. In a country where every 20 minutes a mother dies in child birth, just imagine how many mothers die every minute if we include all health issues. Studies show that the death of a mother not only leaves the family psychologically scarred and emotionally disturbed but also leads to the death of up to two children under the age of two of the same family.
With such depressing facts and figures, and because governments have never really focused on human and social development, where does respite come from? It normally comes from society and from individuals who want to reach out to save ‘other’ souls.
Cancer is a painful process of fear and anguish of first living in uncertainty and then, far more tragic for the majority of people, of worrying over how affordable its treatment is. Early discovery makes many cancers curable but the treatment requires millions of rupees, making it a living tragedy of waiting for death.
In a country where healthcare budgets are less than one percent of the GDP, many terminal diseases become terminal the day they are discovered. But in this very society we have stirring examples of people who have broken all myths of impossibility and created opportunity out of adversity. Names like Edhi, Akhtar Hameed Khan etc stand as inspiring examples of the philosophy that one man can make a difference. Another individual whose social contribution toward health, and particularly cancer, is outstanding is Imran Khan.
The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Research Hospital is a shining example of what compassion, passion, professionalism and excellence can achieve if the vision is based on values of humanity.
Just as the second Shaukat Khanum Hospital starts its journey in Peshawar, it is important to revisit and revive this spirit of contribution that has made Pakistan and Pakistanis survive against all odds. Let us challenge some of the myths that surround the people and potential of our nation:
Pakistanis are stingy. This myth has been developed by the consistently lowest tax-to-GDP ratio in the world. The fact that hardly 0.7 million people of a population of 200 million pay taxes gives rise to this image of Pakistanis being evaders and crooks. But then this is the same nation that comes in the highest per capita category of donations in the world standing tall with rich nations like Sweden and Norway. This substantiates the fact that Pakistanis are a very generous nation and the real deficit is not tax deficit but trust deficit that needs to be bridged between the government and the society. 1.
Rich people are the highest donors. It is not the amount of money but the amount of compassion that sparks a heart. Major donors to the Shaukat Khanum Hospital were not just industrialists and professionals but the poor and even children. The proportion of donations contributed by these two segments proved that it is the belief in the cause and the generosity of one’s heart, and not the generosity of one’s wallet, that creates miracles.2.
Hospitals based on free healthcare are not sustainable. Nineteen of the 20 consultants who were involved in the conception of the Shaukat Khanum Hospital rejected the feasibility of a free treatment hospital for more than five percent of patients. For the last 20 years Shaukat Khanum has provided free treatment to 75 percent poor patients and has a budget of almost Rs7 billion every year that is raised on the trust of people on this one of a kind institution in the world.3.
Professional hospital management is just rhetoric. Government hospitals are viewed as agony increasers and private hospitals are viewed as money spinners. But SKMCH is one hospital that has proven that in this very country professional managers with systems and skills can make all the difference. Patients, visitors and analysts have nothing but praise for it. WHO has given it an award for having world-class best practices in healthcare.4.
5. The poor and rich being treated together is just a joke. If ever there was an institution where this is a serious reality, it is Shaukat Khanum Hospital. Regardless of class, colour and creed, patients are treated with the same ultimate care. This perhaps is really the most inspirational part – seeing true service to the principle that all human beings are born equal.
Pakistan has a very high prevalence rate of cancer, with 1.4 million people suffering from cancer every year. The most frightening figures are of breast cancer in females; it has an alarming ratio of 1 in 8, making it one of the highest in Asia. In Pakistan, KP has a growing cancer rate. Approximately 25 percent of all patients being treated in Shaukat Khanum Lahore belong to KP.
That is why the second hospital in Peshawar is absolutely imperative to provide hope for the poor. The funds required for the first phase were around Rs4 billion. Again, the generosity of Pakistanis has made this dream come true. Building a hospital is just the beginning, managing it and managing it to world class standards is the real challenge.
If ever the true spirit of Pakistanis is visible, it is when a social cause becomes a uniting mission. Shaukat Khanum Peshawar is not just a professional accomplishment, it is a matter of pride for every Pakistani, a matter of hope for every patient, and a matter of inspiration for every heart that feels. Let us go beyond our political, social and intellectual differences and support a cause that can make a huge difference to so many other lives in this country.
The writer is an analyst and columnist.