Healthcare in Pakistan

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Pakistani doctors operate on an injured woman in Muzafarabad in 2005
Healthcare Delivery System of Pakistan [1][2]

The healthcare delivery system of Pakistan is complex because it includes healthcare subsystems by federal governments and provincial governments competing with formal and informal private sector healthcare systems.[3][2] Healthcare is delivered mainly through vertically managed disease-specific mechanisms. The different institutions that are responsible for this include: provincial and district health departments, parastatal organizations, social security institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector.[4] The country's health sector is also marked by urban-rural disparities in healthcare delivery and an imbalance in the health workforce, with insufficient health managers, nurses, paramedics and skilled birth attendants in the peripheral areas.[5][6] Pakistan's gross national income per capita in 2013 was $5,041 and the total expenditure on health per capita in 2014 was $129, constituting 2.6% of the country's GDP.[7]

Pakistan became a signatory to the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000, adopting 16 targets and 37 indicators fixed by the UN Millennium Declaration for achieving the eight goals by 2015.[5] After becoming a participatory body in the MDGs, the government of Pakistan restructured the national health policy in 2001 and began to initiate programs for preventative approaches and healthcare.[3] The public sector was led by the Ministry of Health until its abolition in June 2011 when all health responsibilities (mainly planning and fund allocation) were devolved to provincial health departments.[8] The Ministry of National Regulations and Services was reestablished in April 2012, reinstating a federal body to provide health services and implement healthcare policies.[9] The public health sector consists of 10,000 health facilities with both Basic Health Units (BHUs) which cover around 10,000 people and Rural Health Centres (RHCs) which cover around 30,000 to 45,000 people.[10] Initiatives implemented by the state, including the Social Action Programme and the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Health Care, have aimed to provide communities with various outreach services related to reproductive health, maternal and child health, health education, and the referral of high-risk patients to specialized facilities.[10]

Despite the increase in public health facilities, Pakistan's population growth has generated an unmet need for healthcare.[11] Public healthcare institutions that address critical health issues are often only located in major towns and cities. Due to the absence of these institutions and the cost associated with transportation, impoverished people living in rural and remote areas tend to consult private doctors.[5] Studies have shown that Pakistan's private sector healthcare system is outperforming the public sector healthcare system in terms of service quality and patient satisfaction, with 70% of the population being served by the private health sector.[4] The private health sector operates through a fee-for-service system of unregulated hospitals, medical general practitioners, homeopathic doctors, hakeems, and other spiritual healers.[11] In urban areas, some public-private partnerships exist for franchising private sector outlets and contributing to overall service delivery.[12] Very few mechanisms exist to regulate the quality, standards, protocols, ethics, or prices within the private health sector, that results in disparities in health services.[11]

Cancer care

Cancer information on Pakistan [13] Approximately one in every 9 Pakistani women is likely to suffer from breast cancer which is one of the highest incidence rates in Asia.[14]

Major cancer centers in Pakistan include the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar, Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi and the National Institute of Blood Diseases (NIBD) in Karachi.



Malnutrition is one of the most significant public health problems in Pakistan, and especially among children. According to UNICEF, about half of children are chronically malnourished.[15] National surveys show that for almost three decades, the rates of stunting and acute undernutrition in children under five years of age have remained stagnant, at 45 percent and 16 percent, respectively.[16] Additionally, at the “national level almost 40% of these children are underweight...and about 9% [are affected] by wasting”, diseases where muscle and fat tissues degenerate as a result of malnutrition.[17] Similarly, women are also at risk, with about half suffering from anemia, which is commonly caused by iron deficiency.[18]

A significant contributing factor to this issue is food insecurity; The World Food Programme estimates that nearly one in two Pakistanis are at risk of food insecurity.[19] This in turn can be attributed in part to the rapid urbanisation and mass migrations caused by the Great Partition of India and Pakistan, and the resulting issues with infrastructure and government, as well as other factors.

For example, contamination of water sources affects water and food security, and also over a long time contribute to stunting and underweight measurements, caused by deficiencies of nutrients, lost through diarrhea, dysentery, and other water-born diseases.[20]

Some limitations to interventions and aid are due to the limitations in peer-reviewed literature on this specific topic. According to the director of the nutritional science program at Pakistan's Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), and president of the Pakistan Nutrition and Dietetic Society (PNDS), Dr. Safdar, “only 99 papers of nutritional research were published in Pakistan between 1965 and 2003”.[21]


Drug addiction



Among Asian countries, Pakistan has the highest rates of breast and ovarian cancer. The genetic findings show that BRCA mutation (BRCA1 and BRCA2) mutations account for a substantial proportion of hereditary breast/ovarian cancer and early-onset breast and ovarian cancer cases in Pakistan.[22] Breast cancer is the most common cancer in Pakistan as different studies show it kills nearly 40,000 women every year.[23] According to World Health Organization (WHO), breast cancer rates are getting worse and it is not sparing even younger age group.[24]

Mental Health


Mental health is the most neglected field in Pakistan where 10- 16% of the population, more than 14 million, suffers from mild to moderate psychiatric illness, majority of which are women. The figures probably do not include a large number of people who have never seen a psychiatrist and who strongly deny the need for psychiatric consultation.[25]

Legislation and Policy

When Pakistan was created in 1947, the newly created state continued with the Lunacy Act of 1912, which had been in place in British India. The focus of the act was more on detention than on treatment and with advances in treatment, especially the introduction of psychotropic medication, updated legislation was needed but it was not until 2001 that the Lunacy Act of 1912 was replaced by the Mental Health Ordinance of 2001.[26] Following the 18th amendment in the constitution of Pakistan, health was made a provincial subject rather than a federal one. On 8 April 2010, the Federal Mental Health Authority was dissolved and responsibilities were devolved to the provinces, and it became their task to pass appropriate mental health legislation through their respective assemblies.Only the provinces of Sindh and Punjab have a mental health act in place and there is an urgent need for similar legislative frameworks in other provinces to protect the rights of those with mental illness.[26]

Pakistan's mental health policy was last revised in 2003.The disaster/emergency preparedness plan for mental health was last revised in 2006.[27] There is no policy that protects the rights of people who get convicted but are mentally ill. Recently, Pakistan's top court has ruled that schizophrenia does not fall within its legal definition of mental disorders, clearing the way for the execution of a mentally ill man convicted of murder.[28][29]

Mental Health Care Services

The allocated mental health budget is 0.4% of total health care expenditures.[30] Estimated mental health spending per capita is (US$) $0.01.[27] They are only 5 mental hospitals in Pakistan.[27]

Number of  Mental health outpatient facility 4,356 and  number of mental health day-treatment facility is 14.[27] There are 18 NGOs in the country involved in individual assistance activities such as counselling, housing or support groups.[31] The total number of human resources working in mental health facilities or private practice per 100,000 population is 87.023, among which 342 are  psychiatrist. meaning that there is roughly one psychiatrist available per half-million people.Of these, 45% work for government-run mental health facilities and 51% work with non-governmental organisation s and other private institutions, while 4% work in both sectors.[32][25][33] This shows that infrastructure does not meet the population needs for mental health care.

Disease Burden of Mental Health

Burden of mental disorders  in terms of Disability-adjusted life years (per 100,000 population) is 2,430.[27] Common mental health problems have been identified in both the rural and urban population which seems to have a positive association with socioeconomic adversities, relationship problems and lack of social support. Depressive and anxiety disorders appear to be highest, followed by bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosomatic disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.[34]

Percentage of DALYS of common mental disorders in Pakistan
Schizophrenia 0.36%
Alcohol use disorders 0.47%
Drug use disorders 0.70%
Depressive Disorders 1.28%
Bipolar disorders 0.27%
Anxiety disorders 0.89%
Eating disorders 0.06%
Autistic Spectrum 0.33%
ADHD 0.01%
Conduct disorder 0.26%
Intellectual Disability 0.21%
Other mental disorders. 0.32%

Depression often starts at a young age and affects women more commonly than men.[35] One or two mothers out of 10 have depression after childbirth. Depression also limits a mother's capacity to care for her child, and can seriously affect the child's growth and development. A study showed that exposure to maternal mental distress is associated with malnutrition in 9‐month infants in urban Pakistan.[36]

Almost 18,000 people in Pakistan commit suicide annually while the number of suicide attempts is almost four times greater than these figures.[37] Suicide prevalence in Pakistan is 9.3 people per 100,000 persons.[27]

According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) technical summary report 2012 on drug use in Pakistan, annual prevalence is estimated to be 5.8 per cent, or 6.45 million of the population in Pakistan aged between 15 and 64 used drugs in 2012. Cannabis is the most commonly used drug with an annual prevalence of 3.6 per cent or approximately four million people. Cannabis is followed by sedatives and tranquillisers, such as benzodiazepines, heroin, opium and other opiates.[31]

Mental health Awareness

Challenges and Necessary Actions

The stigma against mental illness is rampant in Pakistan. It is sustained by popular belief in spiritual cures — exorcising evil spirits, experimenting with herbal cures and reciting verses from the Quran — and a lack of awareness about mental illness's causes, symptoms and cures. Even when patients recognise their symptoms, overcome the stigma, gain the support of their families and start looking for medical help, there are insufficient mental healthcare facilities.[38][25]

It is concluded that health care system's response in Pakistan is not adequate to meet the current challenges and that changes in policy are needed. Mental health care needs to be incorporated as a core service in primary care and supported by specialist services.[34] Political commitment, adequate human and financial resources, and advocacy are needed for the integration of mental health into PHC in Pakistan.[39]

There is a strong need to provide adequate training for general practitioners and postgraduate training for mental health professionals to meet the current demands. A collaborative network between stakeholders in the public and private sector, as well as non-governmental organisations are required that promotes mental health care and advocates for changes in mental health policy.[26][34]

Ongoing Programs

A number of innovative programmes to develop indigenous models of care like the 'Community Mental Health Programme' and 'Schools Mental Health Programme' have been developed by the Pakistan government. These programmes have been found effective in reducing stigma and increase awareness of mental illness amongst the adults and children living in rural areas.[40]

Recently, WHO launched a mental health Gap Action Program (mhGAP). It will call for improving political commitments and help develop policies, and legislative infrastructure, to provide integrated health care.[37]

Also,The British BasicNeeds program, mental health focused international NGO with a global reach spanning 14 countries, began forming partnerships with Pakistani nonprofits in 2013, has already served 12,000 people in need of psychiatric attention. In addition to setting up camps where patients can see doctors, receive prescriptions for medicines and engage in therapy, the program trains citizens to recognise symptoms and side effects of mental illnesses.[41][38]


Personnel (source)
Doctors (2009) 139,555
Dentists (2009) 9,822
Nurses (2009) 69,313
Midwives (2009) 26,225
Health visitors (2009) 10,731
Registered vets (2009) 4,800
Health facilities in 2009 (source)
Total Health Facilities 13,937 103,708 beds
Hospitals 968 84,257 beds
Dispensaries 4,813 2,845 beds
Rural health centers 572 9,612 beds
Tuberculosis clinic 293 184 beds
Basic health units 5,345 6,555 beds
M.C.H. centers 906 256 beds


According to official data, there are 127,859 doctors and 12,804 health facilities in the country to cater for over 170 million people.[42]

Many Pakistani doctors and medical professionals choose to migrate to other countries, contributing to a brain drain and chronic skills shortage in the country. In the United States alone, there are over 17,000 doctors of Pakistani origin.[43] Pakistan is the fourth highest source of International medical graduate doctors in the U.S[44] as well as the fourth highest source of foreign dentists licensed in the United States.[45]


Professional institutes

As of 2007, there were 48 medical colleges and 21 dental colleges in the country.[46]



According to Dr.Shaikh Tanveer Ahmed Nursing is a major component of health care in Pakistan. The topic has been the subject of extensive historical studies,[47] is as of 2009 a major issue in that country,[48] and has been the subject of much scholarly discussion amongst academics and practitioners.[49] In 2009, Pakistan's government stated its intent to improve the country's nursing care.[50]


At present there are upwards of 70 dental schools (public and private) throughout Pakistan, according to the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council the state regulatory body has upwards of 11500 registered dentists. The four-year training culminates in achieving a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree, which requires a further one year compulsory internship to be a registered dentist in Pakistan.


Medical tourism

Veterinary medicine

Community medicine

Pakistan's government has committed to the goal of making its population healthier, as evidenced by its support for the Social Action Programme (SAP) and by the new vision for health, nutrition, and population outlined in the National Health Policy Guidelines.The National Health Policy provides guidelines to provinces for improving health infrastructure and healthcare services while maintaining the role of the federal government in coordinating key programs such as communicable disease control.[5] Initiated in 1992 by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Social Action Programme aims to make advances in four social sectors: primary education, primary health, water supply and sanitation, and family planning.[51] The goals of the program are to reform institutions and increase financing for social services within these sectors. SAP is largely financed by external organizations such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, Government of Netherlands, and Overseas Development Agency of UK.[51]

In 1994, the Government of Pakistan launched the National Programme for Family Planning and Primary Healthcare. The main goal of the program is to provide primary health care to underserved populations, particularly women and children, through family planning services.[3] Since its inception, the program has become one of the largest community health based programs in the world, providing primary healthcare services to 80 million people mostly in rural areas.[52] One of the program's main initiatives, the Lady Health Worker Programme, trains women to serve as community health providers in areas across the country and has turned out to be a promising community-based health worker program. Lady health workers are local, literate women who undergo approximately 15 months of training after recruitment. Once training is complete, the lady health workers serve 100 to 150 homes by visiting 5-7 homes daily.[52] The main responsibilities of lady health workers are to conduct screenings of pregnant women and refer them to clinical services if needed, distribute condoms and contraceptive pills, provide interventions for malnutrition such as nutritional counseling, and treat common diseases with special drug kits.[53][54] There are currently approximately 96,000 women serving as lady health workers. Compared to communities not served by lady health workers, communities with access to this initiative are 11% more likely to use modern family methods, 13% more likely to have a tetanus toxoid vaccination, 15% more likely to receive a medical check-up within 24 hours of birth, and 15% more likely to have immunized children below the age of three years.[55]

Despite the Lady Health Worker Programme's strengths, a study conducted in 2002 in Karachi has shown that many lady health workers feel that their salary is too low and their payment is too irregular.[56] Lady health workers are not classified as permanent government employees and, therefore, do not have government benefits. The contractual nature of their job is a constant threat and source of anxiety. Other possible improvements include skill and career development opportunities for lady health workers and a stronger patient referral system within the program.[56]

Prime Minister National Health Program

Prime Minister's National Health Program (PMNHP) was launched on December 31, 2015.[57][58] It was a state-run health insurance program. The initiative was taken by ex-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif. The main aim of the program is to benefit the Pakistani citizens living under the line of poverty. Federal Health Minister was appointed to monitor the process.

Initially, the program covered 15 districts of the Punjab, Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Islamabad as well.[58] Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governments declined to become part of this scheme.[58] The free-of-cost treatment was offered for cardiovascular diseases, Diabetes Mellitus, Burma and RTA (life and limb saving treatment, implants, prosthesis).[57] It also includes treatment of end-stage renal diseases and dialysis, chronic infections (Hepatitis), organ failure (Hepatic, Renal, Cardiopulmonary) and cancer treatment (Chemo, Radio and Surgery).[57]

Until now 3227113 have been enrolled in this program.[59] Furthermore, on January 3, 2018, the program was extended to 38 districts including the Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Jammu and Kashmir along with others.[60]

Emergence of Digital Healthcare

In the last decade, Pakistan has undergone massive digitization in various sectors of economy. Introduction of 3G/4G technologies, growing internet penetration, and an emerging startup ecosystem have fueled a new wave of innovation. Technology has led to a number of positive changes in healthcare delivery.

Today, Pakistan has over 12 startups that work on various service areas, from service delivery to finding the right doctor. These healthcare companies have not only attracted local audience but also attracted foreign investment.[61] 60 million Pakistanis have a smartphone,[62] and they can avail healthcare information, book appointment with the doctors, order medicines, and request lab tests from their smartphones. This emergence of digital healthcare platforms is making it easy for the people to access the right doctor and enabling them to avail the best healthcare services at their doorsteps.

In recent times, the startup culture in Pakistan has boomed with many players trying to change the healthcare segment as well.[63][64][65][66] These startups are also helping patients to buy medicines online, order lab tests and get home sample collection done and maintain medical records so that all patient data & history is stored in one place.

See also


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External links

  • The State of the World's Midwifery - Pakistan Country Profile
  • Ministry of Health
  • Women's Health in Pakistan
  • Rehan N. Profile of men suffering from sexually transmitted infections in Pakistan
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