Saturday June 15, 2024

Remembering Dr Abdul Malik Kasi

By Shahina Maqbool
November 07, 2021

Islamabad: Dr. Abdul Malik Kasi’s seminal contributions to Pakistan’s health sector remained unnoticed in the din of everyday politics, with just a couple of channels merely airing the news of his death after prolonged illness in Quetta on August 14, 2021.

Caretaker Minister for Health in 2008 and Federal Minister for Health from 1999 to 2002, Dr. Kasi enriched the country’s health landscape by designing and implementing several groundbreaking interventions. A renowned personality of Quetta, Dr. Kasi was also a pediatrician, a historian, a writer, and a man of great wisdom. He was known for his affable temperament, for being intrinsically fair, for showing respect to young and old alike, for treating his administrative staff as honoured colleagues, and for championing partnerships and teamwork. He fitted well into the definition of a hero—more appropriately, an ‘unsung hero.’

It was during Dr. Kasi’s tenure in 2000 that Pakistan became a signatory to the Millennium Development Goals, which required restructuring of the National Health Policy in 2001. This policy viewed health sector investments from the lens of the government’s Poverty Alleviation Plan; priority was accorded to the primary and secondary tiers of health, with good governance constituting the basis for health reforms.

‘The News’ reached out to Ejaz Rahim to gain insights into the key contributions of Dr. Kasi. Ejaz Rahim, who retired as Cabinet Secretary, steered the Ministry of Health as Health Secretary during Dr. Kasi’s tenure; he is himself a living legend in so many ways. Ejaz Rahim remembered Dr. Kasi for developing the notion of national health programmes which were neither federal nor provincial, but in which both federal and provincial governments participated and took decisions through consensus, thus giving impetus to creating health policies with a national outlook.

“When I was appointed to the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kasi was Minister of Health. I did not know him at all. My first meeting with him revealed to me, the difference between a politician and a statesman. A politician is perennially worried about winning partisan votes rather than earning public goodwill; strengthening his personal hold on public power rather than paying heed to constitutional limitations on exercise of such power; and focusing on self-projection to expand his political influence. As a public servant, I have encountered both politicians as well as statesmen. Dr Kasi was a statesman par excellence,” Ejaz described.

Dr. Kasi restricted himself to approving policies and ensuring excellence in the Ministry; never did he encroach upon the domain of the Secretary, who was required to harness all possible administrative resources to assist the Minister. “I am a simple man who works quietly, and who believes in fairness and self-restraint,” is how Dr. Kasi summarized his work ethics during his first introductory meeting.

“What a joy it was to be part of his team! I cannot recall a single incident in which he digressed from the principles of work that he had spelt out. He was a man of great dignity who attended office punctually, held monthly review meetings on national health programmes, and was accessible to public. He never interfered with postings and transfers as he believed in upholding merit. His record of achievements in the Ministry can be described as ‘exemplary,’ but there was no self-projection on his part,” narrated Ejaz Rahim.

Sharing some of Dr. Kasi’s key achievements, Ejaz Rahim referred to how he transformed the Lady Health Workers (LHW) Programme from its federal orientation into a national programme. “He inherited a modest programme of 10,000 LHWs, which blossomed into 100,000 well-trained LHWs alongwith its supervisory cadre. He wanted all LHWs to have a range of skills needed at the household level. He personally oversaw this aspect and resisted efforts to governmentalise the cadre so that it does not lose community orientation, which was the essence of its household approach,” Ejaz Rahim pointed out.

Dr. Kasi accorded special attention to EPI interventions; it was during his tenure that Pakistan won GAVI support for cold-chain and introduction of new vaccines after a long gap. He adopted DOTS as a national programme and led the formulation of federal-provincial partnerships in this field through financial cost-sharing. According to Ejaz Rahim, the results of this approach were recognised by the Stop TB Global Coordination Board. Under Dr. Kasi, Pakistan also won grants from GFATM and the Global Drug Facility.

Dr Kasi made the Roll Back Malaria and HIV counselling and cure programmes a part of the national policy. The first integrated women’s health programme was also launched under his stewardship as he saw women and child health as a continuum. He he also pioneered the setting up a regulatory authority on biologicals. Dr. Kasi maintained a productive relationship with WHO and UNICEF. Using his stewardship, Pakistan was selected to represent EMRO on the Global Stop TB Board and GFATM. He ensured adequate representation of Pakistani health professionals in WHO ranks as well.

Dr. Kasi was shattered by the death of his elder son Advocate Dawood Kasi in a terrorist attack in Quetta on August 8, 2016. A top criminal lawyer of Balochistan, Dawood was among 100 people (including 10 Supreme Court lawyers and 54 senior High Court lawyers) who lost their lives in the attack. Refusing the compensation offered by the government, Dr. Kasi gave 5 acres of his personal land to families of slain lawyers and others who lost their lives in the attack.

“That a Minister was able to work so solidly for public wellbeing—without ostentation or fanfare—makes him a role model. Role models like Dr. Kasi are direly needed in the contemporary state of disrepair of our governance culture,” Ejaz Rahim said.