Quality Cancer Care, Offered With Dignity

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Dr Muhammad Aasim Yusuf

Nearly thirty years ago, the people of Pakistan united behind the cause of building the nation’s first comprehensive cancer centre, in Lahore.

After the inauguration of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, in Lahore, in December 1994, cancer was no longer an automatic death sentence for underprivileged cancer patients in our country.

We now have two tertiary care cancer centres, in Lahore and in Peshawar, where thousands of people battling cancer receive quality treatment for a very complex disease, regardless of their ability to pay.

Those present at the inauguration ceremony of the Lahore hospital can still recall Imran Khan’s words, which were to become the founding principle on which we have built our healthcare delivery system: “You must not notice if the patient’s clothes are shabby, if he can speak English, or if he is wearing shoes or not.

You must only see that a needy human being has walked through the doors of your hospital.”

Today, in keeping with Imran Khan’s vision, we continue to offer cancer treatment to all our patients based on the principles of quality, equity and equality.

Our supporters have always donated with confidence, knowing that their contributions are spent judiciously on needy cancer patients, while simultaneously helping to raise standards of healthcare for all those who are suffering from cancer in Pakistan.

We ensure this by implementing a number of continuous quality improvement programmes at our hospitals.

The recent award of re-accreditation by the Joint Commission International (JCI) for SKMCH&RC, Lahore, testifies to the fact that we have been true to our word in providing world-class cancer care to all our patients, over 75% of whom are treated entirely free of charge.

The JCI is recognised as a global leader in developing the most rigorous standards for healthcare quality and patient safety in the world.

SKMCH&RC, Lahore first achieved JCI accreditation in 2018, while SKMCH&RC, Peshawar was so accredited in 2019.

The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust is proud of the fact that of the four JCI-accredited hospitals in Pakistan, two are hospitals of the Shaukat Khanum healthcare system, a feat that is all the more remarkable since these are the only charitable hospitals in the country to achieve such recognition.

All patients requiring financially supported treatment undergo a thorough evaluation of the nature of their disease and the stage at which they have presented to us.

This screening process is conducted at our Walk-in Clinics, located in Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi where patients receive free consultation.

This ensures that all patients being accepted for financially supported treatment have cancer, that their cancer is at a stage where we can provide treatment and that we are confident that treatment will be successful not only in prolonging survival but also in enhancing quality of life.

Once patients are registered for treatment, they are routed to the Financial Support Services for evaluation to ascertain the extent of support they require.

Nearly 75% of our patients receive one hundred percent support, meaning that all diagnostic and treatment services are provided completely free of charge.

We are able to provide world-class care to our patients because we invest in the most modern treatment planning and delivery systems and attract highly trained healthcare professionals.

Ten years ago, cancer patients had to travel to Europe or to Singapore in order to have a PET-CT scan.

In 2010, Pakistan’s first PET-CT scanning system was inaugurated at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre in Lahore and we have since also installed a second scanner in Lahore and a similar scanner in our hospital in Peshawar.

We have the latest radiation therapy systems in the region, including the most advanced and high-precision Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT) and Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS). Our surgeons are pioneers of minimally invasive cancer surgery in Pakistan.

Our treatment protocols are comparable to the best cancer hospitals in the world, with the emphasis on maintaining quality of life and patient dignity in everything we do.

At the same time, our researchers continue to work on studies that may one day enable us to identify novel drug targets for personalised treatment of cancer.

However, in a country of nearly 220 million people, two tertiary care cancer hospitals can clearly not treat everyone with cancer.

We have therefore planned a number of expansion and construction projects to be able to serve ever more patients.

In Peshawar, we will have started surgical and anaesthesia services by the time you read this.

In Lahore, we hope to start construction of the new clinical building, which will effectively double our capacity here over the next three years.

Finally, in Karachi, we are building Pakistan’s third and largest Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital.

Construction is well under way and the hospital is planned to open towards the end of 2023.

Inshallah, this huge hospital will serve not only Karachi, the most populous city of Pakistan, but also all of Sind and Southern Baluchistan.

The cost of doing all this is, of course, huge and as always, we continue to rely on your generosity in the form of donations and Zakat to meet nearly half of our annual operating budget.

At the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust, we consider the disbursement of your Zakat to be a sacred trust, and we ensure all necessary steps and safeguards are in place to ensure its utilisation is in compliance with Islamic injunctions and the expectations of our donors.

All Zakat collected is spent in providing direct patient care within the year of collection – it is neither saved nor invested.

For 2021, the annual operating budget for the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust is Rs. 19 billion.

Nearly half of this is expected to be generated from our clinical income, which comes largely from our diagnostic services, provided primarily via our nationwide laboratory collection centre network.

The other half of the budget is raised each year by collecting Zakat and donations from our generous supporters.

We hope that, as you have done every year since 1994, Pakistanis all around the world will continue their tradition of generosity to support equitable access to quality cancer care in our country.

The writer is the Chief Medical Officer and Acting Chief Executive Officer Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust