Healthcare is not a privilege; it is a right. Though the 18th Amendment failed to incorporate this right in Pakistan’s constitutional framework, there is no reason why the state should not regard it as a right and strive to provide healthcare to all citizens without discrimination. While plenty of work has been done across provinces following the 18th Amendment which transferred the subject of health to provinces, the boldest move has now come from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), where the PTI-led government is gearing up to offer universal health insurance.

According to the KP Finance and Health Minister Taimur Khan Jhagra, who is the pioneer of the programme, each family will be provided coverage up to Rs1 million to cover every individual in the province. This is a revolutionary step for several reasons. Firstly, implicit in the move is the acknowledgment that the state is responsible for providing healthcare, and citizens cannot be left at the mercy of the private sector. It is very much in line with the vision of a welfare state. Secondly, studies show that good healthcare has an overwhelmingly positive impact on different aspects of society. It helps counter and contain poverty, by keeping people healthy and productive, and preventing families from economic collapse. This allows families to allocate funds to productive ventures such as education and work. It also brings down crime. Thirdly, the move is especially significant in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where thousands of lives and livelihoods have been adversely affected.

How well the KP government manages this is yet to be seen, but while reserving judgment on the efficacy of the programme, the initiative must be lauded. It will serve to encourage similar thinking in other provinces which must follow suit. To make this work, the KP government would do well to enhance efforts towards improving the conditions of hospitals in the province. Health insurance will only yield desirable results, if health units are in a position to provide quality care.