Since the devolution of powers under the 18th Amendment, provincial governments have the responsibility of providing several basic services such as healthcare and education to the people. Considering that the rich can afford these services through the private sector, state-run hospitals and schools primarily cater to disadvantaged sections of the society, and those that cannot afford these services themselves. The Punjab government’s decision then, to increase prices at state hospitals and add more charges for services such as dental check-ups and tests for diagnosis is condemnable and must be reversed at once.

Provincial Health Minister Dr Yasmin Rashid should remember that her party has made tall claims about wanting to make Pakistan a welfare state and depriving the poor of healthcare goes against every principle the party claims to stand behind. There are no two ways about this; this new policy directly and only affects the poor and will deny many people access to basic healthcare services. The charges will be unaffordable for many and will likely lead to many individuals not seeking out healthcare at all, leading to more dangers for themselves and the general populace. This disturbing move by the provincial government goes directly against its own promises of uplifting the unprivileged.

These increased costs become even more problematic when one realises that the government is not only depriving access to healthcare for the marginalised, it is also pretending that this is not its intention by making the process to seek out free healthcare much more complicated through allowing patients to give an undertaking regarding their eligibility for the Zakat Fund. Patients will now have to go from pillar to post and get signatures from various governmental departments before any fee is waived. Instead of looking to expand this programme and allow for disadvantaged citizens to access free health services, the government has blocked many currently doing so and has opened up poorer sections of society to go through corrupt and lumbering governmental systems, all for a diagnosis for illnesses.

Instead of cutting the service, increasing revenue should be the objective. There are many ways to fund the provision of healthcare for the poor; a public-private partnership or working with civil society organisations are just two options. The government must answer for this ill-advised decision and Dr Rashid must personally address her reasons for depriving the poor from health services – of course, following this, reversing this decision must also be made a priority.