Pakistan’s first free health care network calls for UK support

Dr Abdul Bari Khan and actor Imram Abbas spending time with
patients at the children cancer unit
Dr Abdul Bari Khan and actor Imram Abbas spending time with patients at the children cancer unit


THE co-founder of Pakistan’s first free comprehensive and state-of-the-art health care network has urged British Asians to engage with the service, as it provides life-changing treatment to thousands of people.

Dr Abdul Bari Khan, a Karachi-born cardiac surgeon, co-founded the Indus Hospital in 2007.

Prompted to act given the lack of health facilities available to the poor in Pakistan, the idea was to provide high quality care free of charge to anyone who needed it.

Since its inauguration in Karachi, it has treated more than 2.3 million patients.

Now there are more than 12 tertiary and secondary care hospitals, four regional blood centres, as well as a variety of public health outreach centres across the country.

It runs entirely on donations and no patient is required to pay any money towards treatment. It is often referred to as the “NHS of Pakistan”.

A nurse looks after a patient at one of Pakistan’s Indus Hospitals

In March, the organisation will conduct several funding events across the UK as they continue to reach out to British Asian communities in the hope they would be encouraged to donate to the cause.

In an interview with Eastern Eye, Dr Khan said he hoped to raise awareness of the work done by the institutes.

“They may have heard of Indus but not the extent of work we do,” he said.

The hospitals, which eventually became part of the Indus Health Network, treat approximately 200,000 patients a month.

They can treat a variety of illnesses, including cancer, and have an array of clinical services related to gynaecology, cardiology and orthopaedics.

The idea behind the hospitals began when Dr Khan witnessed the state of the Pakistani health system up close. He saw families give up their farming animals and houses so they could afford life-saving treatment.

“They would do whatever they could to get treatment,” he said.

Researchers work in the hospital

Then in 1986, Dr Khan witnessed a bomb blast in Saddar, a town in Karachi. More than 70 people were killed and around 250 were severely injured.

However, the emergency department at the Civil Hospital Karachi proved too small to accommodate the injured, and Dr Khan recalled treating victims as they lay on the floor.

The tragic event spurred the philanthropist on to raise funds for the ward. Using a variety of methods, including providing school children with boxes to collect money, he made enough to build a 36-bed casualty ward.

“It brought in the money and that gave us all the motivation to believe that anything could happen, in any corner of the world,” he said.

Dr Khan later gathered with fellow medical students and they discussed building a hospital which would provide high-quality care to every Pakistani citizen, free of charge.

While he completed his training as a cardiac surgeon, Dr Khan continued to raise funds for other causes. At the time, no ward for cardiac surgery existed in the Civil Hospital and patients in need endured three-year waiting lists.

“We knew many of these patients would never come back,” he recalled. “It was such a long time for them to wait when they needed the surgery urgently.”

A young cochlear implant patient after surgery at the hospital

He eventually launched a fund-raising drive which helped to establish a department especially for cardiac surgery, helping benefit countless lives.

Dr Khan had seen his efforts pay off and he remembered the dream he and fellow aspiring doctors had.

“In 2004 we regrouped and told one another that we had a dream and we had to realise it,” he said.

In 2007, with the joint support of The Ruffaydah Foundation and The Islamic Mission Hospital Trust, the first Indus hospital was erected in Korangi, a poor and deprived neighbourhood in Karachi.

“We never turn people away,” Dr Khan, who is still based in Karachi, claimed.
Today around 10,000 staff members work around the clock in various health facilities to provide help to the “poorest of the poor”. Patients do not have to worry about paying fees or any kind.

Although the organisation works hard to collect funds, Dr Khan explained the religious obligation of Zakat helps to raise money for the cause.

The Indus Hospital Korangi Campus

Zakat, a compulsory act within Islam which requires followers to give part of their earnings to charity, means Pakistan has a good relationship with philanthropy.

“If people have faith in you and you have established a credibility, the money will come,” he explained.

Looking back on his philanthropic journey, the father-of-three said he still sees stories everyday which continue to motivate him.

One of his most memorable moments, however, was seeing young children benefit from a cochlear implant programme which helped to replace the function of a damaged ear.

“Seeing patients who were born deaf and dumb able to have the implant, and then seeing those same patients after the procedure and they are able to talk… it gives you a great relief,” he said.