PESHAWAR: The health department has decided to provide free oral drugs to blood cancer patients at the regional hospitals on Sehat Card Plus so that they don’t have to visit Peshawar where oral medication is available for them.

The government has been providing free medicines to patients at oncology department of Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) since 2014. The patients have to visit Peshawar for free medicines every month from far flung areas. It prompted the government to include oral cancer treatment in SCP so that patients can receive free medication in their native areas.

The free cancer treatment programme initiated by government has benefitted more than 20,000 patients of blood cancers as they have undergone free checkups and received medicines on monthly basis at the oncology ward of HMC since 2014.

The chief executive officer of Sehat Card Plus programme, Dr Mohammad Riaz Tanoli, told Dawn that patients would continue to receive free drugs at HMC but the number of hospitals was being increased so that people were not compelled to visit Peshawar rather get medicines in their own districts.

Health dept to include cancer treatment programme in Sehat Card Plus

“The project is being merged with SCP within a month after which the patients would begin getting free medication in Bannu, Hazara, Malakand, Swat and other districts. Currently, cancer patients receive free surgical and chemotherapy services in Peshawar, Abbottabad, Swat, Bannu, Islamabad and Karachi. Merger of the project with SCP would enable the non-admitted blood cancer patients to get free drugs,” he said.

Dr Riaz said that so far, the SCP did not cover the oral medication of OPD patients and only admitted ones were its beneficiaries. “Health Minister Taimur Jhagra has asked us few months ago to facilitate blood cancer patients. It has now been decided to merge the HMC’s project in SCP to ensure that cancer patients get free medicines,” he added.

He said that they were working on fast-track to establish setups at the regional level where patients could be registered for free medication. All the residents of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and newly-merged districts are entitled to free services on SCP. Therefore, all 10.7 million families of the province can avail free health services at the 203 empanelled hospitals.

“There are a total of 1,100 hospitals, which are offering free services to people holding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa national identity cards in Punjab, Islamabad and Sindh,” he said.

Oncologists said there were two types of treatment required by patients suffering from different cancers. They said that one type of treatment was radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery for which the patients were admitted for free treatment on SCP.

The other one was oral treatment of non-admitted patients for blood cancers, they said. Both the treatments were very expensive and most people couldn’t afford the cost, they added.

“The HMC’s project has been very good for patients where they receive free treatment but people have to come to Peshawar every month to undergo follow-ups and get medicines. It is difficult for the people living away from the provincial capital,” said oncologists.

They said that treatment of blood cancer was costly and lifelong and patients required drugs on regular basis. “Under the project, HMC doesn’t deny treatment to those, who are coming in the last stage of cancer and start their treatment to improve their lifestyle and prolong their life span by one to two years,” they added.

They said that the cure rate among adult patients suffering from blood cancer was about 85 per cent while it was 70 per cent among children. They said that 20 per cent patients of blood cancer were children. They added that the cost of treatment of a single patient was between Rs500,000 and Rs1 million and even more.

The government has so far spent Rs33 billion on the free treatment of 1.3 million patients under SCP. The monthly expenditure of the programme has increased to Rs2.5 billion since its extension to the entire population of the province.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd, 2022

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