Prime Minister Imran Khan has many times talked about his government’s commitment towards providing citizens Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and has stated that the Sehat Sahulat Programme launched in KP will be expanded to Punjab as well. While this appeared a hugely ambitious project, considering Punjab’s large populace, the first steps of the plan appear to be initiated. The Punjab government is introducing the Insaaf Medicine Card to facilitate patients of certain diseases, including AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis, across the province.

This is a great initiative and the selection of diseases is also carefully thought out. We have seen an epidemic of diseases like AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis in the region. At a provincial level, Punjab has the highest burden of hepatitis, accounting for 60 to 70 per cent of HCV cases in the total 8 million to 11 million individuals in Pakistan with active HCV viremia. Similarly, Pakistan is one of the eight countries in the world with the highest TB count. With AIDS, the effort is even more appreciable because of the stigma of the disease and patients’ reluctance to recognise symptoms or seek treatment for it.

The benefit that coverage for these treatments will have cannot be understated. Aside from the economic and health benefits of those directly affected, it will lead to better reporting of diseases, and thus a better database, research and eventual planning on how to curb the high incidence of these diseases in Pakistan. The plan to introduce UHC is indeed one of the most remarkable achievements of the government. KP’s Sehat Sahulat Programme has been successful- Punjab’s previous efforts to provide UHC, have lagged in proper and timely execution. It is hoped that the issuing of the Insaaf Medical cards, covering certain diseases in phases, will lead to a better transition on the KP model from selective healthcare eligibility to the entire province getting free healthcare.