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Propaganda being launched to hurt Pakistan’s prestigious liver transplant institute

By Waseem Abbasi
May 02, 2018

ISLAMABAD: A dream institution which aims to provide first-world health care to millions of poor liver and kidney patients of Pakistan is facing existential crisis as some lobbies including those whose private practice is at risk have launched a vicious propaganda campaign against the institute accusing it of hiring professors and staff at exuberant salaries.

In reality, even the head of the institution a decorated world-known professor has not drawn salary for last three years and paid for even professional tours from his own pocket. Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center (PKLI & RC), which claims to be one of the best institutions of its kind in the world, was set up just a few months ago in Lahore to cater to the needs of over 10 million hepatitis patients in Pakistan, a country with second highest prevalence of the deadly disease after Egypt according to World Health Organisation (WHO). It also aims to prevent and treat kidney diseases which are 12th leading causes of death in the country as per WHO data.

It has been founded by Prof Dr Saeed Akhtar, one of the top Urologists in the world who returned from the United States leaving behind the lucrative post of Chairman Urology Department and Clinical Professor of Surgery and Urology at the Texas Tech University.

After becoming fully functional later this year, PKLI plan to offer facilities like free liver-transplant, kidney transplant and other treatments to poor patients. For this purpose it has hired over 40 foreign-qualified and foreign-trained consultants and surgeons from the United States, the United Kingdom and other countries and imported the state-of-the-art machines and medical equipment to provide world-class services to poor patients within the country. Like Shaukat Khanam Cancer Hospital, PKLI will also not charge patients who can’t afford to pay for the expensive surgery and treatment.

The facilities to be offered include outpatient and inpatient services, radiology, pathology, clinical laboratory, ICU, pharmacy, operating rooms, and dialysis machines. The institute has already treated more than 100,000 hepatitis patients throughout Punjab after its inception. But this facility is a thorn in the eyes of some powerful lobbies whose business will be affected if the poor patients are able to avail quality liver and kidney care for free or at lower prices.

According to experts, Pakistan needs 10,000 annual liver transplant but so far only Shifa International Hospital has successfully and consistently conducted Liver Transplant surgeries in Pakistan but it is unable to handle the load and majority of patients are forced to visit India or China for the complicated surgery which costs over Rs4 million. But at PKLI the liver transplant will be free for deserving patients and those who can afford will pay for the service as per their capacity. According to Prof Saeed, 100 liver-transplant and equal number of kidney transplants will be performed on patients annually in the center.

Prof Saeed conceptualised PKLI when moved from the USA to Pakistan with the intention of helping the poor people who could not afford high cost medical treatments. He formed the Pakistan Kidney Institute (PKI) in Islamabad at Shifa International Hospital, where PKI provided the exact same care to the poor which was given to the rich but free of cost. However the burden of kidney disease was such that he soon realised that a lot more work needed to be done. He also felt that a center of excellence, not just a good hospital, was direly needed which not only included state-of-the-art treatment but also cutting edge research as well as international level training programmes for doctors, nurses and technicians so Pakistan could have a constant supply of highly trained medical professionals without seeking hard to find human resource overseas.

His dream was realised when the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif agreed to not only provide 60 acres of land to PKLI & RC but also promised funds for the institute for first three years provided it also starts liver treatment and transplants. But despite receiving financial as well as legislative support from the government of Punjab, Dr Saeed Akhtar who is also the CEO of PKLI & RC, has repeatedly reiterated that PKLI & RC will not have any external interference from either the government or non-government entities, and the BoG will independently make all decisions to ensure that PKLI & RC fulfills its goal of becoming an excellent hospital that will provide cutting edge care to all patients, rich or poor, suffering from kidney and liver diseases.

After due deliberation the BoG of PKLI & RC (Trust) decided that the financial model to be adopted for the institute would be a cross subsidy model where money generated by caring for the affording patients will be used to take care of non-affording patients. Besides this, a business complex will open within the boundaries of the hospital with the goal of supporting PKLI operations. An endowment fund will also be formed and the masses will be engaged for donating to this facility who's primary goal is to give the best possible treatment to the rich and poor alike.

But this dream could shatter if the propaganda against the institute succeeds. The powerful lobbies are trying to malign the institute and doctors to protect their businesses. An influential doctor at services hospital is leading the campaign after failing in his efforts to convince the government to appoint him as head of PKLI.

According to propaganda mongers Dr Saeed is getting Rs3.5 million salary and all other doctors are being paid whooping remunerations. But according to acting Chief Operating Officer (COO) of PKLI, Dr Saeed had not been getting his salary as CEO for last three years. “He did not get a single penny from the government despite working 20 hours a day to set up the institute. He traveled abroad spending his own money to convince his colleagues to come back to Pakistan and serve the poor people.”

Dr Saeed has started receiving a monthly salary as Urologist from December 2017 and currently he is being paid Rs1.2 million monthly salary. It is worth mentioning that even doctor Saeed’s students are earning more than a million per week in private practice.

Dr Saeed received 29 prestigious awards for his services in medical field and for bringing excellence to the field of research and education in Pakistan. He was honoured with Tamgha-e-Imtiaz by the government of Pakistan. He is an active member of 16 professional organisations across the globe.

According to Amer Khan only one doctor at PKLI would be getting Rs2 million once he starts performing liver transplants at the institute. Currently he is only getting 0.5 million for training the staff and setting up the operation facilities.

There are 43 consultants at the institute out of which three would be getting Rs1.5 million each, four would be receiving Rs1.2 million but most would be getting between Rs0.5 million to Rs1million. These salaries would be offered only for two years after which the consultants will be offered share percentage for their services.

According to Amer Khan the salaries being offered by PKLI are far lower than the market price of these consultants as they are not allowed to indulge in private practice. He said the senior doctors serving at government hospitals make millions through private practice which also affects their ability to train their juniors at government hospitals. But at PKLI consultants will pay full attention to patients and they will be training junior doctors thus spreading their foreign-gained knowledge and expertise throughout Pakistan.

He said the salaries for the doctors and consultants were decided by BOG after on recommendation of an independent firm hired under the PPRA rules. He said 90% of PKLI consultants are foreign qualified and trained and half of them have recently returned.

Dr Amer Yar Khan himself has served in the US for 18 years before returning to Pakistan. He got his Internal Medicine training from the State University of New York and also at the University of Rochester Strong Memorial Hospital. He has served as Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine, University of South Dakota, Division of Health Sciences, School of Medicine, USA. He has also been Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, University of North Dakota, School of Medicine & Health Sciences, USA. While in Illinois he trained students as clinical instructor in medicine for the University of Illinois, USA. Dr Khan worked as Director of Hospital Medicine at Saint Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, North Dakota, USA where he was also in charge of patient care coordination.