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PKLI’s autonomy

Updated March 16, 2019

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PRIME Minister Imran Khan should take serious notice of the action taken by the Punjab provincial government to end the autonomy of the Punjab Kidney and Liver Institute through a bill that abolishes the board of trustees. The institute has been praised by Dr Adib Rizvi, founder of the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation, for providing free, high-quality medical services to thousands of people. It runs on a model similar to the Shaukat Khanum hospital and SIUT. It has very successfully operated in public-private partnership mode since its inception under a law passed in 2014 as a non-profit that takes some funds from the government and the rest from charitable donations for its 820-bed facility in Lahore. Under the leadership of the able Dr Saeed Akhter, the institute thrived and attracted Pakistani talent from around the world; many successful doctors were willing to forego lucrative practices abroad to return and serve their country instead. Why exactly the PTI government in Punjab decided to vote to destroy the governance structure of this institute is a mystery. After all, this is the same party that in KP gave us the Medical Teaching and Institutions Reforms Act only one year after the establishment of the PKLI, and under which the same model of public-private partnership has been used to advance the cause of free healthcare provision for the poor. If the model is a good one in KP, the party needs to explain why it’s a problem in Punjab.

The problems of the PKLI began when the former chief justice of Pakistan, Saqib Nisar, took a capricious suo motu action against the institute to promote what can only be described as a self-styled campaign in the name of health. For Mr Nisar, the point of contention was the disparity in salaries between doctors at the PKLI and other public-sector hospitals. For 11 months, Dr Akhter was harassed, accused and taunted in court while the suo motu proceedings dragged on, and the situation at the hospital and of its patients, some awaiting urgent surgery, was left in limbo. Thankfully, that episode was over when the new chief justice ended the suo motu proceedings, but now the PTI government in the province has opened up a new front. The prime minister must put an end to this the same way the new chief justice put an end to the judicial humiliations visited upon this institute.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019