Pakistan’s government launched a national health insurance program for its poorest households Thursday, marking the start of the most-ambitious public health project in the country’s history.
The Prime Minister’s National Health Program will from Thursday cover families that make less than $2 a day through a gradual rollout. In the first phase, over 3 million families will get health insurance in 23 districts, with the ultimate aim to cover 22 million households across the country, officials said.
“This is another step towards the welfare state that we promised to create when we came into power,”said Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Pakistani government already subsidizes health care to varying degrees in public hospitals, but officials acknowledge these facilities are unable to handle the patient load or achieve public health targets.
The government said earlier this year that it wouldn’t be able to meet the United Nation’s targets for child and maternal mortality rates that formed part of the Millennium Development Goals, which had a deadline of 2015. Critics have blamed Pakistan’s low health spending and inadequate management as key factors in the poor health provision. Between July 2014 and March 2015, Pakistan spent just 0.42% of its GDP on health. The U.S. government spends about 8.3% of GDP on healthcare.
The new insurance program will cover treatment at both public and private hospitals. Private hospitals that sign up will then be offered loans on easy terms to upgrade their facilities, officials said, without providing further details about interest rates and conditions.
Saira Afzal Tarar, minister of state for health Services, regulations and coordination, said most Pakistanis pay out of pocket for treatment. “There is treatment at government-run hospitals, but there are long lines. Those who don’t have a recommendation have to wait months for treatment,” Ms. Tarar said at the launch ceremony in Islamabad. “With this [health insurance] card, you’ll be able to go to the hospitals where you weren’t allowed to even go to the front door. Now, you’ll be treated there with dignity and respect.” Ms. Tarar said.
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