Islamabad - With the inauguration of the Prime Minister’s National Health Programme, the people have started availing healthcare facilities and are being issued health cards.

As many as, 6,500 families have been issued health cards so far and 10 patients have started getting treatment, said State Minister for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar while addressing a press briefing about the programme.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif started off the health insurance programme from Islamabad on Thursday last under which poor families earning up to two dollars a day will be eligible to avail health facilities worth Rs 300,000 annually. Under the programme, 3.2 million poor families would get free treatment of catastrophic diseases.

The health minister said although healthcare is a responsibility of provinces after devolution of some federal subjects to the province, yet the federal government realising the problems of poor people in accessing healthcare facilities started this mega health programme.

As the programme has been started for the first time in the country, it will bring many challenges with it but the ministry would do its level best to make it a success through a comprehensive strategy, she added.

Almost all the major diseases including heart disease, diabetes, liver and kidney failure, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, traffic and burn injuries, maternal and child care will be covered under the programme.

The beneficiaries from twin cities will have eight hospitals on their panel including Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Shifa International, Rawal Medical College, Begum Jaan Hospital, Life Care Hospital, Al-Nafees hospital, Rawal Institute of Cardiology, and Al-Nusrat Hospital. The people can get information about the status of their enrolment and services through sending an SMS at 8500 and toll free number 0800-09009.

Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid who accompanied the health minister during the press briefing said the health programme is a gift of New Year from the federal government to its people. He said the government has fulfilled the promise of providing free medical treatment to the poor by launching National Health Programme. Pervaiz Rashid said PML-N had promised in its manifesto to provide comprehensive national health services with the cooperation of private sector.

He said 2015 was the year of political stability. He said the government has converted the chaos into stability with courage and revived the ailing economy. He said under a policy schools are being upgraded to improve the quality of education.

More than 120 million people spend on catastrophic healthcare expenditures in Pakistan, says Dr Sania Nishtar, founder and President of Heartfile, a think tank on health policy issues.

“In addition, they also risk being pushed below the poverty line as a result of healthcare costs or foregoing healthcare altogether,” she added. “It is a fundamental responsibility of nation states to ensure financial access to healthcare and provide universal health coverage,” she added.

Commending the initiative she stressed that “monitoring and evaluation should be embedded in the programme so that operational learning can help make it effective.”