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ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will launch the National Health Programme in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), on Thursday.

Under the scheme, 82,000 families of Muzaffarabad district will be provided free healthcare facilities.

Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar was in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday, along with a team from her ministry, to finalise the arrangements.

NHS Secretary Ayub Sheikh told Dawn that by Wednesday evening, 15,587 cards (out of 82,000) had been handed over to the families selected through data of the Benazir Income Support Programme.

“The remaining cards will be distributed within two months. People are being traced and after confirmation, cards are being handed over to them,” he said. “So far three private hospitals of Muzaffarabad have been chosen for the scheme and they will start providing services on Feb 25,” he said.

Efforts were being made to include two public sector hospitals, the Combined Military Hospital and Abbas Institute of Medical Sciences, in the scheme, Mr Sheikh said.

On Dec 31, Prime Minister Sharif launched the programme in Islamabad and described it as the first step “towards making Pakistan a welfare state”. The government plans to expand the

programme to all parts of Punjab, Balochistan, AJK and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

The people of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will not benefit from the initiative because their governments have declined to become part of the federal government programme.

Under the scheme, a family will get Rs50,000 per year for secondary care treatment which will begin as soon as a patient is hospitalised.

Moreover, each family can get treatment of up to Rs250,000 under the category of priority diseases, including cancer, accident and burn injuries, diabetic complications, heart bypass and infections.

Therefore, each family selected for the scheme can get treatment of up to Rs300,000 per year and that amount can be doubled in case of emergency. The additional amount will be contributed by the Pakistan Baitul Mal.

Mr Sheikh said the programme would be launched in 23 districts in the country and under it 3.2 million families living below the poverty line would be provided healthcare.

“Because it was our first experience of managing such a scheme, we wanted to run it for at least one month in Islamabad to remove any deficiencies.... I believe that now we are in a position to launch the programme in any other city without any complications,” he said.

An official of the ministry said a non-governmental organisation had been engaged to reach the beneficiary families.

“We have hired an NGO to verify the people and issue them cards after biometric registration. Community mobilisation to inform the people has also been started so that the families may themselves contact the officials and collect their cards. The facility cannot be provided without cards,” he said.

In case of confusion, people may get information about the programme by sending SMS to 8500 or by calling at a toll free number (0800-09009), according to the official.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2016