An exclusive conversation with Dr Abdul Bari Khan, the angel in Pakistan
The Indus Hospital (TIH) is a symbol of compassion, dedication and faith-based commitment. The hospital started as a 150-bed general hospital in the urban slums of Karachi. The philosophy behind it, was very simple, it was a project by the people for the people. The idea would not have taken a concrete shape without its founder and CEO’s passion, commitment and hardwork.
Dr Abdul Bari Khan belongs to a Peshawar-based middle class family. He is a Dow Medical College alumni who graduated in 1986. He inherited the love for humanity from his father who taught him to serve his fellow-beings. While he was studying he became part of the Civil Hospital’s Patients Welfare Association (PWA). PWA’s objective was to raise funds for people who can’t afford the treatment.This was just the beginning of Dr Bari’s charitable work. Later he worked for the renovation of the Civil Hospital’s Emergency Department. The next milestone was the establishment of the blood center. He also developed a free diagnostic center at Civil Hospital. 1986’s Karachi blast was a turning point in his career. Lack of beds and almost non-existent casualty ward added to the miseries of blast victims. A lot of people died because of insufficient healthcare facilities. Dr Bari was very upset with the situation and he took it as a challenge. He, along with his friends and colleagues worked hard to collect donations and developed a very well-equipped casualty ward. Later on, he developed a Cardiac Surgery Ward along with an operation theatre and ICU.
While working at the Civil Hospital, he witnessed so many heart-wrenching stories but one incident which shook him to the core was when a family abandoned their daughter to die just because they could not afford the treatment. Dr Bari and his colleagues took care of her and she received free medical care. He had been thinking about the flaws of public health system since the beginning of his professional education but this incidence became a turning point. There were two options: one, he should sit calmly and wait for a miracle; second, he should get up and do something. Young Dr Bari chose the latter.
Setting up of Rufaydah Foundation in 2004, was the first step towards a self-sustaing, free, private healthcare system. During the same year, Dr Bari came in contact with the management of The Islamic Mission Hospital Trust. The trust had a 20 acre area in Korangi, Karachi to build a free for all hospital. However, it could not sustain due to financial and management problems. After joining hands with the Islamic Mission Hospital Trust, Dr Bari embarked upon the most-fulfilling and rewarding journey. Construction began in May 2005 and TIH started functioning as a 350-bed tertiary care hospital.
In 2007 the first patient walked in to the Indus Hospital. A dream which was considered outlandish became a reality. Millions of patients have been provided with the highest possible healthcare free of cost. The hospital currently offers General Medicine, Family Medicine, Pediatrics & Pediatric Surgery, Children Cancer, Cardiology & Cardiothoracic Surgery, Orthopaedics & Trauma Surgery, General Surgery, Emergency Room, Laboratory, Radiology, Infectious Diseases, Diabetes Care, Nephrology, Urology, ENT, Ophthalmology, Gastroenterology, Dermatology, Plastic Surgery, Nutritional Services, TB Clinic, Anesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Management. It is the only hospital in Pakistan which doesn’t have any cash counter. The hospital has an electronic Hospital Management Information System which does not require any paper work. Best management and transparency had a great appeal for donors who helped the Indus Hospital in forwarding the cause.
The 150-bed hospital is underway a great expansion. Recently it has expanded to a 300 bed facility and by the end of 2024 it will be expanded into an 1800 plus bed facility. A Singaporean architect firm is designing a unique architectural model for the Indus Hospital, Karachi. The ‘window for every patient’ model will be one-of-a-kind as it will provide one window with every bed hence each patient would be able to breathe air and feel the sunshine in his room.
Dr Bari has been lucky to have equally committed and passionate team members. He remembers that in early days his esteemed colleagues worked absolutely free. They did not charge a single rupee. Now TIH is a competitive employer. Dr Bari is happy that during the first decade of its existence, the Indus Hospital has achieved many milestones. It has not only expanded terms of services but also geographically.
TIH has now transformed into the Indus Health Network and Dr Bari’s vision is being replicated in various healthcare institutions. The network is currently managing eight hospitals in: Karachi, Lahore, Bhong (Rahimyar Khan), Badin and is treating more than more than 1.8 million patients every year. The network is expanding its operations in Peshawar, Multan, Mansehra, and Quetta soon. Sustainability and resource generation are the biggest challenges for Dr Bari.
The hospital currently spends over PKR 320 million per month which is being met through donations. Unavailability of even basic healthcare system at public hospitals and exorbitant charges in private hospitals have led even the middle class to head towards the Indus Hospital. The management is foreseeing an influx of patients in coming years.
Dr Bari has proved that any siutation can be changed with hardwork and commitment. His sincere efforts are bearing fruit. His dream has come true but according to him it was just the tip of the iceberg. He is now dreaming of changing the national health system and for that he is expecting us to become a part of his movement.
During his conversation with PAKISTAN & GULF ECONOMIST, Dr Bari talked about the upcoming university of the Indus Hospital. The excerpts of the conversation are as follows:
Unfortunately, majority of the doctors produced in Pakistan by the renowned institutions in Pakistan go for the better opportunities abroad. One noteworthy thing is that majority of the female qualified doctors, due to social and family obligations, quit working after getting married which is a wastage of resources. The challenge we faced in the past and even today to some extent is the lack and quality of human resources. The first and the foremost thing is that majority of qualified male doctors leave the country for better prospects and females quit jobs after getting married and those who are not from quality institutions do remain in the country and their skills are really not that good. So we have to do something to improve their skills. Based on this, we came up with the idea of establishing a university where we could produce quality human resource for ourselves, for other hospitals in Pakistan and the world.
We have got the charter for the Indus University of Health Sciences approved. Our university would start functioning in a couple of years. We are not interested in having a run-of-the-mill university. There is hardly one quality medical university in Pakistan and there is a need for quality medical universities in Pakistan and we are working in that direction.
We are looking forward to producing the quality doctors who should stay in Pakistan and serve the nation. We don’t mind if the doctors go abroad and serve there, however, our preference is that instead of getting settled abroad, they should go abroad to learn the skills and come back to Pakistan to serve those who need them the most. The doctors who go abroad are also serving Pakistan in terms of sending remittances which our country needs. However, what I presume is that even if 10% of all the doctors produced stay in Pakistan, it would be sufficient in terms of quality human resources serving the country.
The Indus University of Health Sciences would be a need-blind university. There would be different schools and colleges in the university: medical college, dental college, nursing college, school of allied sciences, school of pharmacy, school of public health, school of health informatics etc. No student would be refused admission because of poor financial status and the admission criteria would be total merit.
We already have a nursing college.We produce around 150 nurses per annum and majority of the nurses produced by our nursing school are given good package by one of the leading hospitals of Pakistan and we feel very satisfied that we produce great quality that other hospitals look forward to appointing these nurses. There is a need to develop the passion to serve the underprivileged and let me tell you that the employees working at The Indus Hospital including the staff, nurses, paramedics, doctors etc. go home with the satisfaction that they work for the betterment of the humanity and they are particularly serving those who cannot afford quality medical treatment.
The institutions cannot only be run with money and elegant buildings rather skilled, passionate and sincere human resource is sine qua non for the success of an institution. We are fortunate enough to have the people like Dr Syed Zafar Zaidi, Dr M. Amin Chinoy, Dr Akhtar Aziz to name a few. It is our responsibility to develop the skills of our juniors so that they may also contribute to the welfare of the humans.