Recently, KP became the first province to offer universal health coverage to its 40m residents. Going by the disaster that the healthcare system in this country is, this can be seen as a revolutionary move. The Sehat Sahulat Programme was first piloted by the KP government in four districts in 2015 but covered only 3pc of the population. In 2016, it was extended to cover 51pc of the population, 69pc by 2017 and finally the entire province in 2020. Under the programme, around 6.7m families in the province can avail hospitalised treatment worth Rs1m every year at 400 public-sector and private hospitals across the province. If all goes as planned, this scheme could prove to be a game changer for public healthcare. A large percentage of the population lives below the poverty line in the country where access to adequate healthcare is difficult. Government spending in the sector remains below 3pc of GDP, resulting in understaffed, underfunded and overcrowded public-sector hospitals where the poor run from pillar to post to seek treatment for themselves or their loved ones. In such circumstances, access to healthcare for women becomes doubly difficult due to patriarchal mores that hinder movement and prevent women from making health-related choices. Free access to proper medical care will lower the levels of neonatal and maternal deaths in the country. Indeed, hospital admission for women needing treatment might also change social taboos, allowing women greater mobility in the long run.

So far the response to free healthcare in the province has been positive, although with hospital admissions tripling, efforts may be needed to expand health facilities and services. A rickety healthcare infrastructure of decades will surely be subjected to even greater pressure as more people avail of the benefits of the health coverage plan and free up their income to spend on other essentials of life. If the months ahead prove that the scheme is implemented successfully, other provinces too can learn from KP’s example.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2021

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