In December 2019, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), Lahore will celebrate its silver jubilee. At the beginning, many people were of the view that it cannot be built, and some said, even if it is built it can never function with the mission of treating the poor free of cost. Today, the Hospital provides financially supported treatment to about 75% of its patients and has spent over 39 billion rupees on treatment of poor cancer patients. It is the only charity cancer hospital, across the globe which is providing free of cost cancer treatment to over 75% of needy and deserving patients. This indeed is a great achievement of its supporters. Imran Khan’s dream to build a modern hospital that provides state-of-the-art cancer treatment facilities and services, irrespective of the patient’s ability to pay, was to honor the memory of his mother, Shaukat Khanum.

In a developing country, such as Pakistan, there was a scarcity of proper healthcare facilities and cancer was a disease for which there was minimal hope. Most treatable cancers were diagnosed at an advanced stage and by that time, even the most expensive treatment would result in an adverse outcome. The establishment of SKMCH&RC meant that Pakistan was receiving its first cancer treatment facility.

To start the project, Imran Khan launched a nation-wide appeal in 1989, followed by a campaign to collect funds through 50 fundraising events around the world. Support for the cause was overwhelming in all tiers of society. In 1994, when the project required additional financing, Imran Khan travelled to 29 cities in Pakistan in the form of a mass contact campaign to collect funds for the completion of the project. As a result, SKMCH&RC opened its doors to patients on December 29, 1994.

Today, Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC), Lahore has completed twenty-four years of service and has spent over thirty-nine billion rupees in providing free treatment to thousands of deserving cancer patients. None of this would have been possible without unconditional, and unflagging, support from people of Pakistan.

Last year, SKMCH&RC Lahore was awarded the Joint Commission International’s (JCI) Gold Seal of Approval for Hospital Accreditation by demonstrating continuous compliance with the JCI’s internationally-recognized standards. The Gold Seal of Approval is a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to providing safe and effective patient care.

Any quality service struggles to cope with capacity issues, particularly so when the service being provided is free for the majority of its recipients. This is the reason why the creation of additional physical space has become imperative to meet our increasing workload. To address this issue and to provide cancer treatment to the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, near to their house, the second Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre was built in 2015.

In Peshawar, facilities at SKMCH&RC continue to be scaled up to meet the burden of patients from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining areas. The Hospital has now completed three successful years of operations. SKMCH&RC Peshawar has completed phase II of its development, with the introduction of radiation treatment facilities, and now has a functional Clinical and Radiation Oncology Department. Following on from this, we plan to start construction of the operating rooms in the Peshawar hospital, with a view to commencing surgical services there during 2020.

While these two existing facilities continue to provide much-needed services to deserving patients, thousands of poor cancer patients continue to suffer in Sindh and Balochistan. The construction of the third, and largest, SKMCH&RC, inKarachi, will thus be of immense importance for brothers and sisters in Sindh and Balochistan, who will be able to access comprehensive diagnostic and therapeutic cancer facilities under one roof, entirely free of charge for those who cannot afford to pay.

In line with its mission to ensure access to the poor, over 75% to 80% of cancer patients will receive free cancer care at Karachi facility. Construction of the Hospital is expected to be completed over a three-year time-frame, at an estimated cost of Rs. 9 billion, with the Hospital planned to open in December 2021 as a fully-functional cancer hospital with all the essential clinical and support departments one would expect of a facility of this nature. These will include Medical Oncology, Pediatric Oncology, Clinical and Radiation Oncology, Surgical Oncology, Anaesthesia, Radiology, Internal Medicine, Nuclear Medicine and Pathology. The Hospital will be equipped with the latest cancer care technology, including state of the art diagnostic facilities, radiation treatment planning and delivery systems.

The budget for the year 2019 is Rs.13 billion, a sum which will not only allow the Hospital to continue to provide free cancer treatment to over 75% to 80% of all cancer patients seen in Peshawar and Lahore, but also to fund the construction of the Clinical Tower in Lahore, the development of surgical services in Peshawar and the construction of the hospital in Karachi. As in the past, about half of this is expected to be met by generous donations and Zakat of people from across the world. This hospital is a substantial symbol of a son’s tribute to his mother, and with its decade’s long performance, now it has become the symbol of hope for thousands of mothers. Insha Allah, with the help of people of Pakistan, it will continue to serve the humanity, on even more comprehensive scale.

The writer is CEO of SKMCH&RC.