ISLAMABAD-Only 86 million people have access to essential health services in country and Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) in collaboration with provincial health departments is working for development of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Benefit Package of Pakistan, a statement said on Monday.

A five-day national discourse on the Development and Implementation of Universal Health Coverage Benefit Package of Pakistan started here on Monday. A statement issued by Ministry of NHS said that Pakistan is making progress on health outcomes but progress is very slow with serious equity issues.

Only 86 million Pakistani were having access to essential health services in 2017 – a major reason for poor health outcomes in Pakistan.

To address the challenge, the ministry is expanding the ‘Sehat Inssaf’ Programme to all districts in Pakistan to protect 83 million poorest people from catastrophic health expenditure but also to ensure provision of essential package of health services to all people both through public and private health sector.

Special Advisor to Prime Minister on NHS Dr. Zafar Mirza, addressing the inaugural session said Pakistan is the first country in the world to use localised evidence on disease control priorities 3 and burden of disease to develop an essential package of health services/UHC benefit package of Pakistan.

Secretary NHS Dr Allah Bakhsh Malik said that health ministry in partnership with the provincial/area departments of health, health academic institutes, private sector, civil society organisations and development partners has developed an essential package of health services/UHC Benefit Package and will have deliberations to finalise the document, while considering the evidence generated.

In partnership with WHO, the DCP3 secretariat funded by the Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is providing technical support to the government of Pakistan through LSHTM, Radboud University, Aga Khan University and Health Services Academy to assist the development of the UHC benefit package of Pakistan.

Representative of the DCP3 secretariat, Dr. Ala Alwan mentioned that “There are inequities in access to health care in Pakistan along with insufficient implementation of long-term strategic planning for the health workforce, inadequate national capacity in key areas - such as public health and family medicine, inadequate access to essential technologies and medicines, a large, unexploited and unregulated private health sector and fragmented health information systems. We are working with the government of Pakistan to address these gaps along with evidence based strategic work for the development of essential package of health services and inter-sectoral interventions.”

Professor Anna Vassal from the LSHTM said, “Based on disease burden in Pakistan and considering cost-effectiveness of different health interventions, scientific tools are being used to produce a health package at different levels of health care delivery system in Pakistan. The government in Pakistan can optimise the health package by adjusting total budget, financial risk protection, and equity weight.”

Presenting the draft essential package of health services, Dr. Assad Hafeez, Director General (Health) informed the audience that adequate evidence and research for defining essential health services, followed by effective implementation of the services to all people is the best solution for effective functioning of health system in Pakistan and delivering UHC results.

The approach will be piloted through a model health care system in ICT for universal health care and a pre-pilot has already been launched at Shah Allah Ditta Community Health Centre in the suburbs of Islamabad.

The ministry in collaboration with the provincial/ area departments of health and other stakeholders is finalising the UHC benefit package of Pakistan and to start its implementation in 2020.