In an interview with Anadolu Agency in the provincial capital Lahore, Khawaja Salman Rafique, health minister for Punjab -- the country’s most populous province with over 90 million people --, said Pakistan deeply appreciates Turkey’s assistance in the health sector but it now looks to expand cooperation in this key area further.

“Turkey is already assisting us in several health-related fields, especially in capacity building, hospital management, and modernization of health sector. But much room is still vacant,” Rafique said.

He said health insurance is one area that Pakistan could learn a lot from Turkey. The health insurance rate is estimated at over 99 percent in Turkey, whereas it is just above 32 percent in Pakistan.

He said Pakistan is going to expand its health insurance card scheme in Punjab with the assistance of Turkey.

“Pakistan has recently launched a health insurance scheme for the low income bracket population initially. In Punjab, this scheme has initially been introduced in four districts. We are going to expand this scheme to other districts with the help of Turkish Health Ministry, which has been in constant touch with us,” he said.

“We are developing a comprehensive framework to introduce a viable health insurance system in the province with the help of Turkish consultants,” he added.

He said that some Turkish investors were also looking into manufacturing of plastic products used in the health sector.

A delegation of Turkish investors is currently visiting Pakistan to find out the feasibility for building a plastic instruments manufacturing plant in Punjab, Rafique said.

The provincial minister also spoke about the scope of expanding cooperation in the media tourism sector.

Training of doctors, nurses

“We have sent over 120 doctors, health managers and paramedics to Turkey to acquire latest training and skills in different fields of health, especially family medicines [refers to medicine for common ailments such as seasonal flu etc.], and hospital management in last six months.

“We are going to increase these numbers in coming months as the doctors and nurses trained by Turkish trainers have made a significant difference,” he added.

This training of personnel would also encourage Pakistanis to take advantage of better medical facilities in Turkey instead of them going all the way to the U.S. and Europe.

He said Turkish consultants were also guiding Pakistani doctors and paramedics on how to improve their outpatient departments, laboratories and medical tests at the grass roots level.

Rafique said the provincial government recently introduced emergency motorbike service in the province, which was an idea floated by the Turkish Health Ministry.

“On the special directives of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, we have ordered the procurement of 800 motorbikes, which will be used to provide quick first aid and emergency services to the patients across the province. These number will be further increased next year,” he added.

The Turkish Health Ministry is also assisting the Punjab government in the renovation of Jinnah Hospital -- the largest public sector hospital in Lahore, he added.

Also, he said, the Punjab government is setting up a drug testing laboratory in Punjab's Multan city with the help of Turkish ministry to improve the quality of medicines.

“Drug testing is very important in present day health system, which needs a third-party attestation. We are working with Turkey in this field as well, and the Turkish government has offered us to conduct 300 drug tests for free every year,” he said.

He invited Turkish investors to explore manufacturing of medicines in Pakistan and promised that his provincial government would facilitate them in every way.

Anadolu Agency