by Ambreen Saleh

The Patient Welfare Programme was initiated at the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in 1986 to provide needy patients access to its medical services, who may not, on account of financial difficulties, be able to afford normal hospital charges. More than 70 per cent of the patients who visit AKUH every year are from low and middle income households. 

Since its inception, the welfare programme has disbursed over Rs 7.5 billion (US$100 million) worth of financial assistance to support over 1.5 million patient visits. This support is provided regardless of religion, gender, creed or domicile. The Patients' Behbud Society for AKUH was formed in 2001, as an independent entity that collects and disburses zakat for needy patients, and is celebrating its 15th year of providing health and hope. Patients who are eligible to access zakat, are also able to receive financial assistance from the AKUH's main Patient Welfare Programme.

Joyful again

After 10 years, Arjumand and her husband were blessed with a baby boy. The baby's smile would light up the room and he was named Kaif, which means "a state of joy" or "high spirits". 

“After so many years, our family was complete”, recalls his mother, Arjumand, happily as she remembers her newborn.

However, the family's joy was short-lived. Soon after birth, Kaif started showing signs of difficulty in breathing and would 'turn blue'. Doctors suspected that the tiny baby had been born with a defect in his heart. His crying and repeated bouts of fever, would keep his parents awake and tense all night.

After he was treated in various other hospitals with little success, Kaif's parents were advised to bring their baby to AKUH, where the boy had the best chance of survival. Here, under the expert care of the team at the congenital paediatric surgery unit, Kaif was tested and diagnosed. He had been born with congenital heart disease (CHD). 

Congenital heart defects are problems with the heart's structure that are present at birth. Each year, some 50,000 infants in Pakistan are born with CHD. If the disease remains undetected, most children do not survive beyond the first few years of life. 

Kaif was born with a hole in the wall between his hearts chambers, which was affecting the normal flow of blood through the heart and the flow of oxygen to his body. The defect was quickly remedied by a surgery, performed by a team of experts at the congenital paediatric surgery unit.  The Department of Paediatric and Child Health, Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) provides one of the most comprehensive, internationally validated and timely cardiovascular services in the country. 

In order to give every patient access to the best healthcare, those who cannot afford treatment are referred to the Patient Welfare Programme or the Patients' Behbud Society for AKUH. The congenital paediatric surgery unit alone performs more than 250 cardiac surgeries a year with almost 60 to 70 per cent of these patients receiving welfare assistance.

As Kaif's parents had already spent much of their savings on his treatment, they could not bear the burden of paying for his surgery and post-surgery care.  The Patient's Behbud Society for AKUH and the welfare programme stepped up and covered over 70% of the cost the baby's treatment. Today, Kaif - and his parents - are happy again. Kaif smiles and gurgles like any other normal baby and his parents look forward to watching him grow up.

“Diagnosis and timely treatment can markedly improve the chances of survival of the majority of children born with congenital heart disease, so that they can live active lives as adults,” says Dr Babar Hasan, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH). 

A Stone’s Throw

In 2007, five-year old Asad Javed was playing with his friends, when another young boy hurled a stone at him. The stone hit Asad's eye and he lost vision in this eye. Asad underwent a painful and unsuccessful procedure soon after his injury. Normal activities, such as studies and playtime, all came to a halt. For eight years his parents desperately visited various doctors and tried to find a cure for his severely impaired vision. 

It was only after he visited AKUH in 2015, that Asad's problem was thoroughly diagnosed. The impact from the stone had caused a scar in his eye and a haemorrhage, or leakage of blood, at the back of his retina. Due to delayed treatment, a cataract had also formed in Asad's eye. A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. It generally occurs with age. In Pakistan, according to a 2007 study, over half a million people suffer from blindness from cataract issues, which can be corrected provided the right treatment is available.

“When Asad came to see me, he only had 10 per cent vision left in his eye. The treatment he received saved him from permanent blindness”, says Dr Irfan Jeeva, Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology, and Service Line Chief of ENT/Ophthalmology at AKUH.

Between December 2015 and February 2016, Dr Jeeva performed three procedures on Asad. The first was a surgery to remove the cataract and the second, two injections, four weeks apart, to treat the heamorrhage in his eye. These procedures restored 75% of the child's vision.

With four other family members to feed, Asad's father could ill afford the treatment for his son's complicated condition. His physician referred his case to welfare. Both the Patients’ Behbud Society for AKUH and the Patient Welfare Programme helped reduce his financial burden, covering over 70 per cent of the cost of the treatment.

At AKUH, Asad received prompt diagnosis and treatment, supported by state-of-the art equipment and appropriate medication. Asad was given guidance on how to care for his eye once he checked out of the hospital. He continues to be monitored by the ophthalmology team after his treatment has concluded and makes regular follow-up visits to his ophthalmologist.

How you can help

Many patients, like Kaif and Asad, come to AKUH with complex or multifaceted conditions when other hospitals are unable to diagnose and treat them. The AKUH has a very transparent process for assessing the eligibility of patients and disbursing welfare. 100% of donations received by the Patients' Behbud Society and Patient Welfare Programme are used for the treatment of patients and the institution bears all marketing and administrative costs. In 2015, of the Rs 1.45 billion disbursed as welfare, 74% was funded from the Hospital's own revenue. In future, the Hospital plans to increase the percentage of revenue that is channeled towards financial assistance for deserving patients.

You can help by contributing to our welfare programme, or guiding patients requiring medical and financial assistance to our welfare office. For further details, visit us at www.aku.edu/supportusorwww.pbs.akuh.org. Or come see our assessment process and facilities at the hospital!