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Selfless Shehbaz and Empathetic Imran? PKLI is an Institute of 200 Million Pakistanis and It Must be Saved

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Most of the greatest milestones achieved in any sector are the outcome of pain, deprivation, rejection and loss. The finest example is that of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital. It is in human nature that no matter how empathetic a human is, he can never understand the pain or the loss of the one who is directly aggrieved or an affectee. Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan lost his mother in battle against cancer. She breathed her last leaving behind a question that rattled Imran Khan’s mind —- we had no cancer hospital in Pakistan.

That’s where a journey started and he laid the foundation stone of Pakistan’s first ever cancer hospital, that too free for those who can’t afford. One of the most expensive treatments in the world was given free to patients in a country like Pakistan. And the rest is history.

We came across another example of similar nature when we go through a sobering and defining moment. Former Punjab chief minister Shehbaz Sharif was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Shehbaz, who in his own words was usually associated with brick and mortar, has contributed to a mega health project that outshines all other reforms and initiatives he took during his 10-year rule in Punjab. And it’s none other than PKLI.

Aides close to the family have quoted him saying, “When I got my second chance at life after cancer, I wanted to give back to mankind and the PKLI is that one project which I think is my ‘give back’ though it’s still a little effort.”

The institute has conducted successful transplant surgeries for both liver and kidney already and that too free of cost. It is South Asia’s first state-of-the-art project and one of the largest transplant centres in the world. Though located in Lahore, it is a contribution for the entire country. It was part of the Hepatitis Free Pakistan – 2030 Vision.

Undue interference tried tainting the image of Dr Saeed Akhtar’s who is actually the backbone of this milestone but the Supreme Court’s latest verdict has cleared all the doubts. Dr Saeed Akhtar is the man who facilitated reverse brain drain for Pakistan, and the doctors, who were earlier earning millions of rupees monthly while serving in West came back to the country to serve humanity in return of meagre salaries. These salaries were higher than those of government servants because these doctors were not allowed to practice privately in order to maintain quality healthcare services at PKLI.

The amendments in the PKLI Act suggest such changes which shall convert this heaven for patients into a hell just like any other government hospital. It has already started reflecting aftershocks of the latest Act, transplant procedures have been at halt, institute was unable to procure required medical inventory and the majority of the cream that Dr Saeed Akhtar attracted from all over the world has already left it.

Dr Amer Yar Khan’s resignation and the humiliation he faced, and the number of calls the current management has received from parliamentarians for the “special treatment” of their patients after government took over the charge, all this indicate where the PKLI is heading.

Last month, Shehbaz Sharif spoke to Dr Saeed Akhtar and congratulated him on the recent verdict by Supreme Court and asked if he was facing any difficulties. Dr Saeed Akhtar was disheartened by the provincial government’s interventions to turn this state-of-the-art institute into another run-of-the-mill hospital. Shehbaz Sharif advised him to pledge allegiance to the prime minister and give all the credit to him and convince him to help the institute sail through the crisis.

Without any fear of losing the credit, Shehbaz Sharif has showed so much grace which an ordinary politician would not dare. Just like any other politician, he could have let it happen because if this project fails, the PML-N will be in a position to do point scoring but he chose not to.

There are a couple of other projects falling prey to delay but he didn’t mention Orange Line which we usually associate with him more than other social projects. His affiliation with the PKLI, even while being in opposition, is an expression of his commitment to healthcare and mankind. He even assigned his aide to get Dr Saeed Akhtar connected to Prime Minister Imran Khan. This one act by Shehbaz Sharif lies at heart of the debate regarding politician-turned-leader; this is the time for Mr Prime Minister to prove that he is not an ordinary leader either. Whether this meeting between Dr Akhtar Saeed and the Prime Minister takes place or not, Imran Khan must take action regardless of it. If one leader can offer sharing credit for his milestones then why can’t we own it, not for the prestige but for the people?

The way Imran Khan has saved mothers of millions of people at Shaukat Khanum, it’s the time to save mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and people, who are sole bread earners, through PKLI. It is not Shehbaz Sharif’s hospital only; it is an institute of over 200 million Pakistanis. This one issue is greater than IMF deal or any other matter of economic or administrative importance. It is a matter of life and death which should always be above politics.

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