Mariam Ibrahim

Imagine you work very hard each day, out in the sun, laying down bricks after bricks, building a house that cannot be yours. You barely earn enough to put down food two times a day on the table.

One day, you have an accident and you hurt your leg. This misfortune makes you see a doctor. You see many local doctors who cannot figure out what is wrong, but you are in pain so you persist. Finally, in a city, far away from your hometown, a doctor diagnoses your illness – it is cancer. You are told to go back home because you cannot afford the treatment. You are sent back to die. This is the story of M.K and thousands of others like him.

However, thanks to the dream of one man and trust of a nation, their story does not end here. When you feel tired of life and want to give up, only friends who show you light of hope keep you hanging. Friends who make you smile and remind you life is still worth fighting for.

Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH & RC) is full of such friends who give hope; who believe in trying one more time. SKMCH & RC symbolises a final ray of hope for the indigent cancer patients.

In a country, where around 150,000 people fall victim to cancer each year, it is extremely difficult to choose whom to save. But even if one life is saved, it testifies to the fact that hope exists.

In fact, the Hospital shows a window of possibility to live to thousands of patients each year; around 10,000 new patients were registered just last year.

The above story is an example of how cancer may knock at your door one day, unannounced. Or it could be your loved one’s door. The man who lays down bricks is also loved by someone.

As John Rawls suggests, in order to come up with fair principles of a just society, imagine the decision makers are behind a ‘Veil of Ignorance’ where they are blind to their socio-economic background, race, religion, talents, etc. That is, they do not know when the veil goes down, with what arbitrary factors they would end up in life, so they are compelled to make fair decisions.

SKMCH & RC is a manifestation of such a concept of fairness–where the rich and poor, people belonging to different races and religions, share food, same in-patient rooms, same treatment–essentially, same opportunities to fight for their lives.

In fact, one may argue that for once in this country, the system is biased in favour of the poor. This is because if the Hospital’s mission states that cancer patients will be treated irrespective of their ability to pay, and its policies direct that 75 percent of the patients treated are to be financially assisted, the Hospital will not accept two rich people, just because they can pay, over two poor people–poor are the priority.

If you want to see a place in this country where a poor person is a VIP, please do visit SKMCH & RC, Lahore or Peshawar.

The existence of SKMCH & RC today, two decades after its inauguration, is nothing short of a miracle–it defies reason. And the miracle happens every day–when a surgery is performed, chemotherapy sessions take place, and radiation therapy occurs.

The only reason that comes close to an explanation is this grand level of trust that transcends state borders and brings together Pakistanis from across the globe to support this noble cause–not once, but every day.

However, the burden of cancer in this country demands establishment of many more cancer hospitals. It is the state’s responsibility to provide an adequate healthcare system for its people; the non-profit organisations should act as gap-fillers and provide additional support to the already existing state institutions rather than acting as primary institutions in any public sector–a phenomenon that unfortunately exists in this country.

A hospital, especially a cancer hospital, constantly needs to upgrade itself to keep up with the evolving international standards of healthcare. To achieve this, a charity cancer hospital particularly requires constant support – as SKMCH & RC has received, and continues to receive, from its ever-trusted donors.

If the burden of cancer is shared with an increase in cancer hospitals, it will eventually benefit the cancer patients whereby not only more patients will get a chance at treatment but also more resources will be available to carry out cutting-edge research on cancer.

SKMCH & RC has already played a great role in keeping data on cancer patients by maintaining a comprehensive Cancer Registry and importantly, it has set benchmarks regarding various cancer related statistics in this country. In addition, the research scientists at SKMCH & RC have dedicated their energies to studying the risk factors of breast cancer since Pakistan has the highest incident of breast cancer in Asia.

The Hospital’s contribution towards investigation of BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes is truly praiseworthy since it has led to an advance in the risk management of breast cancer in Pakistan.

In line with its mission, the Hospital has also contributed towards creating awareness about various cancers–women presenting with early stages of breast cancer at the Hospital testifies to the fact that level of cancer awareness has increased in our society.

However, with hundreds of types of cancers to investigate and new treatment methods, such as immunotherapy, to explore, there is still a long way to go. Unfortunately, research in this direction requires a massive level of funding which is difficult to achieve without state support.

SKMCH & RC is a phenomenon of hope not just for poor Pakistanis but for poor human beings. It is a global phenomenon not just with respect to its donors but also its patients.

It is a gift by the people of Pakistan to the people of Pakistan–and to the humanity. It is a tribute to the dignity of human life, which is an end in itself, regardless of race, religion, nationality or economic background. If you want to pay a tribute to the dignity of human life, support the cause of SKMCH & RC by contributing however much makes you happy because even one rupee goes a long way.