PESHAWAR -- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)government recently decided to extend its Sehat Sahulat Programme (SSP), which provides free health care to poorer residents, to the newly merged tribal districts.
"We have decided to extend the programme to the former FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas] region so that we can offer free health care to residents of North and South Waziristan districts," KP Health Minister Hisham Inamullah Khan told Pakistan Forward November 8.
The SSP, which began in KP Province in 2017, entitled 69% of the population to free health care. So far, 148,000 patients have received treatment at 110 designated public and private hospitals. The KP government has spent $30 million (Rs. 4 billion) since the start of the programme.
The programme covers a total of 2.4 million families in KP, where up to eight members of a family are eligible to receive medical services.
"The districts of North and South Waziristan have been selected because they have been torn by terrorism," said Khan.
The initiative will benefit 69% of the population of the two districts, identical to the percentage in KP, according to Federal Health Minister Aamir Kayani.
Workers are carrying out a survey to identify the potential beneficiaries of the SSP, where each [eligible] family will receive a Sehat Insaf Card (SIC), he told Pakistan Forward.
The data will be linked to the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) to ensure that those with terrorist ties do not take advantage of the services, he said.
"It is against the National Action Plan to provide treatment to terrorists; therefore, details about each person will be shared with law enforcement agencies," Kayani said.
North Waziristan and South Waziristan have estimated populations of 543,254 and 679,185, respectively, according to the 2017 census.
"We are hammering out a strategy to implement the programme," said Kayani. "We will select beneficiaries based on data provided by the Benazir Income Support Programme, and any family with an income of less than $4 [Rs. 535] a day will be included."
"We will be enforcing the programme in the former FATA ... and will upgrade the health facilities there. The patients will get services at top private and public hospitals," KP Health Services Director-General Arshad Khan told Pakistan Forward.
The tribal population has suffered at the hands of militants, who not only destroyed the health and education facilities but assassinated medics and threatened families seeking to vaccinate children against diseases like polio, he said.
The SSP will enable the local residents to receive quality treatment at KP-based hospitals of their choice, Khan said.
Dr. Jawad Ali, a private medical practitioner in South Waziristan, told Pakistan Forward that the SSP had proved to be a success in KP and that he hoped tribe members would receive hassle-free treatment.
"Most residents here cannot afford specialised treatment because of its high cost and the need to travel to Peshawar, but they will now be getting services like the rich," he said.
In addition to free treatment, female patients will receive $40 [Rs. 5,300] for the cost of travel to Peshawar, Ali added.
The long wave of terrorism has gravely affected health care in the former FATA, Dr. Abdul Karim, a dental surgeon from Mir Ali, North Waziristan, told Pakistan Forward.
"We have 979 health facilities with 8,796 staffers, but employees were reluctant to work here, especially female staff and specialists [for security reasons]," he said, adding, "The SSP is a blessing for the local population and is a reward for standing up to terrorism."
The health situation of women and children is very grim in the former FATA, he said, but the distribution of SICs will enable women, children and others to seek treatment in hospitals.
The programme is meant to unravel the militants' onslaught against the public and against the healthcare system, Dr. Pervez Khan, former FATA health director, told Pakistan Forward.
"More than 6 million residents of the seven tribal districts have suffered immensely in the situation created by the militants," Khan said. "This is a fitting response to the militants who wanted to disrupt health delivery."
The government should cover the entire population of KP -- not just the indigent -- and strengthen local health facilities and service delivery, he added.