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November 6, 2018

Centre, Sindh stop funding private hospital for deserving children


November 6, 2018

Hundreds of children suffering from blood cancer and other lethal diseases, including thalassaemia and Aplastic anemia, have been deprived of an opportunity to acquire free quality treatment as the federal government and the Sindh health department have stopped funding to the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD) in Karachi for conducting bone marrow transplants (BMTs) and cancer treatment, The News has learnt.

Bone marrow transplant is a procedure for the treatment of thalassaemia, Aplastic anemia and Sickle Cell disease in addition to some types of cancer during which diseased or unhealthy bone marrow of a person is replaced with healthy marrow, which is usually acquired from blood relatives, including parents or siblings.

The previous federal and Punjab governments of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had started sending children suffering from blood diseases to the NIBD for BMTs. This was followed by the Sindh government, which signed an MoU with the NIBD last year for conducting BMTs of needy and deserving children at government expense as at that time not a single public sector hospital was offering the facility.

The Punjab government, however, is still sending children to the NIBD for BMT and treatment of other blood diseases at its expense although it has got a team of surgeons, nurses and paramedics trained at the private hospital in Karachi, which has successfully performed 10 BMTs at Children Hospital Lahore.

“Both the federal and Sindh governments have stopped sending children to our hospital for BMTs, but officially neither the federal government nor the Sindh government has communicated to us about the suspension of the program, eminent BMT expert and NIBD Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr Tahir Sultan Shamsi told The News.

He said the PML-N led federal government used to send children of federal government employees and deserving children from federal territories to them for BMTs at the NIBD Karachi, but for the last few months, both the federal and Sindh governments had stopped sending children without any explanation, while the Punjab government was still sending children.

“The Punjab government was the first provincial government that approached us and requested us not only to perform BMTs at their expense, but also help surgeons and staff at the Children Hospital Lahore in acquiring the training so that they could conduct the sophisticated procedure in Lahore. We not only treated children from Punjab here but also trained Punjab’s surgeons and paramedics, who have recently conducted 10 successful BMTs on their own.

After the initiative of the Punjab and federal governments, the Sindh health department also approached the NIBD administration and asked them to conduct BMTs of needy and deserving children of the province, assuring the NIBD that it would provide Rs300 million annually for the purpose.

“Last year in September, Sindh health minister Dr Sikandar Mandhro had arrived at the NIBD and he not only lauded our services but also signed an agreement with us, assuring us of providing Rs300 million annually for conducting BMTs at their expense. We agreed to perform a BMT procedure at the cost Rs2 million,” Dr Shamsi explained.

Since September 2017, around 50 to 55 children underwent BMTs at the NIBD while around 100 children were also sent to the blood diseases institute for the treatment of different types of cancers, including leukemia and lymphomas, as well as tumours, he said, adding that these children were given chemotherapy and other treatments, for which the Sindh government was charged on a case to case basis.

“But since the formation of the new governments in the Centre and Sindh, they have stopped sending children to us for treatment at their expense. People are coming to us to inquire about it, but we are referring them to health departments as funding for the treatment used to come from the authorities,” he added.

To a query, he said they had not overcharged even a single penny from the Sindh government as alleged by the health department as all the treatments, including BMTs, were performed in accordance with the agreement with the provincial government.

Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho, when asked about the reasons for the suspension of funding to the NIBD, claimed that there were some transparency issues which compelled them to halt the funding to the private health facility. “As soon as they started receiving funds from the government, they increased their charges, which are not acceptable to us. We are looking for a place which is equally good and cost-effective where we could refer children for bone marrow transplants,” she added.

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