Bringing hope to the
city of lights

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By Mujahid Barelvi

Karachi, the city of lights, is one of the largest cities in Pakistan with over 16 million people according to the 2017 census. The city has representation from all across Pakistan because it is a major industrial and commercial hub. Like the rest of the country, Sindh is also suffering from a general shortage of healthcare facilities where the number of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and beds are grossly inadequate keeping in view the increasing population. Healthcare delivery is managed by a combination of public and private institutions. Karachi has a strong tradition of philanthropy and the gap in service delivery is often filled by charitable institutions that are supported by generous donations.

There are several hospitals in Karachi that have cancer wards but no tertiary care cancer centre exists in the city with unique characteristics that have become hallmarks of cancer treatment in Pakistan, established by the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT). As a result, patients have to go from one centre to another to seek diagnosis and treatment facilities. A few are able to afford to travel to Lahore for treatment at the oldest campus of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre. Others, who are unable to receive specialised care in a timely manner, succumb to the disease.

If we rewind to twenty-seven years ago, before the first Shaukat Khanum Hospital opened in Lahore in 1994, cancer was synonymous with a death sentence. Imran Khan channelled the pain of seeing his mother and common Pakistanis suffering from cancer into building the nation’s first specialised cancer hospital in Lahore. Despite a seemingly impossible task, he did not stop at building one cancer hospital. Keeping in view the increasing patient activity, the second Shaukat Khanum Hospital was built in Peshawar and now the third one is under construction in Karachi. His dream was owned by the people of Pakistan residing around the world. They joined hands and opened their hearts to give generously towards defeating cancer in Pakistan.

Karachi – city of lights – an aerial view

Almost everyone has been touched by the menace of cancer. In the absence of a functional national cancer registry, the prevalence of cancer in Pakistan is estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) mainly based on the Punjab Cancer Registry, which is managed by the SKMT. It estimated 178,000 new cancer cases in Pakistan last year.

The people of Pakistan have united against cancer by building and running the network of the Shaukat Khanum healthcare system across Pakistan. Both the hospitals, in Lahore and in Peshawar, are accredited by the Joint Commission International which shows the commitment of the SKMT to provide quality treatment to all patients, irrespective of their ability to pay. Over 75 percent of cancer patients receive financially supported treatment at Shaukat Khanum facilities. Patients have reported satisfaction about the multi-disciplinary model of care that is provided to patients under one roof.

Cancer patients of southern Pakistan also deserve quality care closer to their homes. According to the Karachi Cancer Registry, 33,309 cancer cases were reported between 2017-2019 from eight hospitals in the city. However, none was a specialised cancer hospital. The Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Karachi will be the biggest cancer hospital with 470 beds and it is being constructed on an area of 1 million sq. ft. The new hospital will be equipped with the latest technology and it will be managed based on the experiences of running two specialised cancer hospitals in Pakistan. It will also carry on the legacy of SKMT of providing equitable access to all patients.

Karachi – a city that needs sincere attention

The construction of a large, dedicated facility for cancer treatment in Karachi will mean that more people of the region will have the opportunity to fight cancer. It will also benefit the people of neighbouring province of Balochistan and other adjoining areas. As committed in its mission statement, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust also provides palliative care at its hospitals, which offers pain and symptom management to patients. This means patients are not only provided curative treatment with dignity but also the end-of-life care to its patients with specially trained nursing staff. For such patients, having the hospital nearer to family and support network is very important in their journey to end their fight with cancer in peace.

The ethos of Shaukat Khanum promotes equal treatment of everyone associated with the Hospital, including staff and patients, irrespective of ethnicity or religion. The hospital has zero tolerance for harassment. Women as well as minority groups are encouraged and have representation in the managerial positions. The addition of Shaukat Khanum in Karachi will be a positive addition of an institution in Sindh, representing diversity and tolerance.

Our little contribution can go a long way. The new hospital is expected to be commissioned at Rs16 billion, which may sound daunting but if every Pakistani donates Rs100 for one brick, together, SKMCH&RC in Karachi could easily become a reality

(The writer is a Karachi based leading journalist, analyst, and commentator.)