There has been a lot of talk lately about “Rs. 10 billion”—Imran Khan insists the amount was offered to him and the government claims no one would offer him even Rs. 10. People would believe whoever they want to believe as it is one man’s word against another man’s word in the absence of any concrete evidence. Perhaps we need to remind our politicians that ironically, the very land on which Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore is built was given by the then government of Punjab ruled by Mr. Nawaz Sharif. Such was the credibility of Imran Khan. Today, only because of political differences, they are willing to disregard Imran Khan’s philanthropic endeavours and have not shied away from attempts to malign his charitable causes. Why do we forget  an institution such as Shaukat Khanum Hospital is not just Imran Khan’s personal achievement, it is the nation’s achievement. When everyone was debating about the Rs. 10 billion, around the same time, a graph was shared by Shaukat Khanum Hospital on their social media platforms depicting that the Hospital has reached 26% of their annual operating budget—that is, 26% of Rs. 10 billion.

If you have ever visited the Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Lahore, you do not need any statistical figures to tell you that this is the place where poor have equal access to healthcare facilities as any wealthy person. You can visit the hospital, like I did, and see for yourself that there are no private rooms or wards.

As I wanted to experience the hospital’s environment wholly, I knew I had to visit the Hospital’s cafeteria to actually witness the hospital’s claims of equity. Therefore, I decided to have lunch there. If  you are aware of the conditions of institutions in our country, you would also be pleasantly surprised that the rich and the poor stand in the same queue and eat side by side, sometimes sharing the same table, in the Hospital’s cafeteria. Sometimes one is lucky to witness moments that seem too good to be true or as if they do not belong to our cruel world. I consider myself lucky to have witnessed a simple yet remarkable incidence of compassion and poverty during the lunch hour at Shaukat Khanum Hospital. There was a pathan woman with a little girl. They were about to sit on the floor next to the chairs when another family close by told the woman in her language that you are supposed to sit on the chairs. I was speechless to realize that they were not accustomed to the idea of using chairs and tables. It’s as if we live in two different worlds, separated by an invisible wall. It is unfortunate that we do not even get a chance to peek inside this other world of despair and poverty, just commuting from one point of comfort to another point, traveling inside our air-conditioned cars. Coming back to the little girl, she went to the table where staff members were having lunch and whispered something into a man’s ear. As he did not know her language, he failed to understand what she was saying until she pointed towards their plates. She was hungry and she wanted food. They did not even hesitate for a second to discuss and one of the men just picked up his plate of daal and roti and handed it to the girl. I was trying to imagine the difficulty of dealing with an illness like cancer, surrounded by an unfamiliar culture and language. Even if I try hard, I cannot do justice to imagining the difficulties these people suffer from. These are the people who cannot even afford two rotis for Rs. 10, cancer treatment is beyond their wildest imagination. The reality is that affording basic human rights, including the right to live, is a luxury for these people.

Without doubt, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust has emerged as one of the most credible charities in Pakistan. We can all disagree with Imran Khan’s politics but there is no doubt that he has done a phenomenal job in establishing world class cancer centres in Pakistan—a task that was deemed impossible by many. The work of the organisation speaks for itself through the high quality of services that it offers that have been recognised by several prestigious organisations including the World Health Organisation for its services in the healthcare sector. That day, I did not just see the face of a patient in the cafeteria. I saw the face that my Rs. 10 could help save. For me personally, it is not just saving any life. It is a life afflicted by cancer; a disease that was considered a lost cause. The word “cancer” was considered as a death sentence in Pakistan. Therefore, supporting a cause for cancer means believing in what was considered as impossible—believing in hope.

Let us return to the question of Rs. 10 billion. It seems that Rs. 10 billion can be used, presumably, for throwing away money in corruption or any other leisurely activity that suits you. Or Rs. 10 billion can be used to save thousands of lives by running two state-of-the-art cancer centres and building a third one. Whether the Rs. 10 billion was offered to Imran Khan or not, I know for sure that this is not the question in the mind of the mother who is holding her little girl in her arms, struggling to fight cancer.

 

The writer is a freelance contributor.