January issue 2013
“It was a germ that was born at the back of a classroom,” says recent graduate of Ziauddin Medical College, Shahfar Khan. The “germ” she refers to is the KaraHealth Welfare Association (Karachi-Health), that she and classmate Neha Sher formed, along with a few other students.
The duo always felt that people of all socio-economic backgrounds were entitled to avail quality healthcare. So they set about to provide the same — and that’s how KaraHealth came into being, in January 2009.
The organisation provides a platform to those who want to give back to the community. Originally, the organisation focused largely on gathering funds for treatment and diagnostic procedures for those who could not afford it. Today, it is a fully functioning organisation with a yearly rotating executive body.
The organisation’s fundamental concern is access to healthcare. Healthcare in Pakistan is “an expensive proposition,” says Shahfar Khan, “and because there is no government mechanism that guarantees access to quality healthcare, the common man has nothing to turn to, if his health fails him. The cost of medication and other medical procedures has become such a burden on the pocket that most people choose not to seek medical help until the problem spirals out of control. People quite literally can’t afford to be sick!”
Initially, KaraHealth operated as a mobile healthcare unit, but with time, the team realised that one
healthcare unit wasn’t sufficient to bring about the change they wanted. After a year had passed, the team felt the need to expand its area of operation to encompass other aspects of healthcare, such as preventive medicine and blood donation, whilst focusing on building upon the preexisting facilities that Ziauddin Hospital has to offer.
KaraHealth now has three broad areas of operations: the blood department, and the curative and preventative sides. The blood department conducts regular blood donation drives, held at 90-day intervals. On the curative front, patient expenditures are subsidised as deemed fit by a KaraHealth member — green KaraHealth slips determine the fate of patients, vis-Ã -vis their finances. On the preventative side, their main objective has been to spread awareness about basic preventable diseases.
This is done through educational drives and health camps in urban squatter settlements. So far, they have organised malaria awareness camps, health and hygiene workshops for children, tuberculosis awareness and screening camps, regular polio vaccination drives, and cloth collection drives in winter to collect warm clothing for children in government schools.
“Funding has always been an uphill task,” says Khan. Fortunately, regular donors, who trusted the medical students with their hard-earned money, are proud of the results they see. However, the bulk of all patient-funding comes from fundraisers organised by the board and its members. Many lucrative fundraisers have been held in collaboration with celebrities, including comedians who help organise gigs. Plays and bake sales are also held.
Often, the socio-political situation of the country puts a halt to their activities. Following the murders of polio vaccinators in Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, for instance, they had to cancel their own polio drive. Says Khan, “We feel angry and helpless. We leave the security of our homes to help prevent a debilitating disease, and it’s difficult for us not to get disheartened when one of our own is attacked. The irreparable damage done to the work of thousands of NGOs and healthcare workers, who strive to bring health and happiness to the community, is a shame.”
Nevertheless, members of the KaraHealth team have learnt to cope with a multitude of situations, ranging from the urgent to the seemingly impossible. Be it a simple blood test or a full-blown obstetric emergency, they try their level best to deliver. “It is a challenging job, which is made even harder by the fact that we are a very young organisation.”
The students have been fortunate in that they have received an incredible amount of assistance from the administration of Ziauddin Medical College and Ziauddin Hospital, Clifton. “Dr Kamran Hameed, the Dean of the medical college, Dr Anoop Kumar, the Chief Manager Operations at Ziauddin Hospital Clifton, and Dr Yaseen, of the Ziauddin Primary Health Care Department, have been vital to the formation and the smooth running of this organisation. Also, our fellow students have stood by us, worked for our cause and been our morale boosters. With the arrival of each new batch at Ziauddin University, come zeal and fervour and fresh perspectives. That’s what makes student organisations so special. We look forward to handing over the reins to the next batch of students so that they continue our legacy, and one day make KaraHealth Welfare Association a force to be reckoned with in charitable healthcare.”
The passion of the KaraHealth team, comprising mostly final year medical students, is truly inspirational. For all those who want to team up with them and help provide succour to Karachi’s poor patients, KaraHealth says, “You’re more than welcome. We do not want your money. We want your time. Organise a fundraiser with us/for us, come to one of our events, wear our T-shirt around town, come to a polio drive and vaccinate a child, give us a warm sweater to pass on to an unprivileged child.
Everything, no matter how small, counts as something at KaraHealth.”