The Daily Telegraph, Britain based leading newspaper has termed Pakistan’s Ehsaas program, one of the most comprehensive welfare programs ever undertaken by a national government. The newspaper in one of its issues said that Pakistan is leading the way with its welfare state policy and the world can learn from its innovation.
The program is led by Dr. Sania Nishtar, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection, who has been mandated to work in partnership across multiple federal ministries that these policies will be driven by, as well with provincial governments who have devolved powers including on education and health. Without a multi-sectoral approach, it would not be possible to create the welfare state envisioned by Ehsaas.
Prime Minister Imran Khan launched an ambitious social safety and poverty alleviation program for the welfare of the general masses earlier this year. Addressing the launching ceremony earlier in March this year, Khan had said: “It is the first time that such a program is coming to Pakistan. You will remember the day we launched this program — the day [Pakistan] becomes a great country.”
The newspaper in its article said that “it was for the first time that a public policy in Pakistan has been developed in this way that demonstrates a new level of openness and transparency. The author has termed ‘Ehsaas’, a Urdu word meaning ‘empathy’, the new initiative one of the most comprehensive welfare programs ever undertaken by a national government, with an underlying ambition to create a social safety net for Pakistan that could transform the lives of millions. It is enormously wide-ranging and ambitious.”
Pakistan’s Ehsaas program encompasses 134 policies that range from tackling corruption to creating educational opportunities and providing the elderly with decent homes. Over 3.3 million people will be covered under insurance in the next few years. Those who don’t get the cards will get health coverage from another program ‘Tahaffuz’. The street children and transgender, who are treated cruelly, will be helped and protected through this program.
The Daily Telegraph, in its article, further said that the launch of a countrywide public consultation was particularly important as it was the first time a public policy in Pakistan had been developed in this way and demonstrates a new level of openness and transparency. Ehsaas’s impact will hopefully go much further than the borders of Pakistan. It will provide many lessons for low, middle and high income countries.
This community-based approach allows health, education and other social issues to be tackled together in a holistic fashion. Girls and boys who are healthy, for example, are more likely to get a good education and go on to be productive members of society and live healthy lives. The strongest systems work across sectors, breaking through barriers to drive programs and solutions that touch on health, education, economic livelihoods and beyond.
Despite some progress since the turn of the millennium, a quarter of people in Pakistan still live in poverty, with rates of rural poverty more than double those in urban areas. With one of the fastest growing populations in the world, Pakistan will have to create a million new jobs each year just to keep up with the number of young people entering the job market. Educational attainment is some of the worst in the region and health indicators are not promising, demonstrated by the fact that Pakistan is one of only two countries where the wild poliovirus remains endemic.
There is a long road ahead to achieve the ambitions set out in the Ehsaas program, which is still in its infancy. Whatever the eventual outcome, it is encouraging to see a country with Pakistan’s potential setting its ambitions so high. As with the community health worker system that turned global health on its head, the breaking down of silos is a vital step in building a welfare state in Pakistan but also provides a blueprint for how other countries can ensure essential services for all.