Lower-middle-income countries South-East Asia

Achieving universal health coverage in Pakistan

To celebrate the start of a new year, GNHE has published an assessment of progress towards universal health coverage in another country – Pakistan.

You can read the full assessment here.


The author is Muhammad Ashar Malik and his main conclusions are:

In Pakistan, the health system is dominated by private financing (in the form of out-of-pocket payments) and private provision of health services. Apart from government spending there are very few prepayment mechanisms. Consequently cross-subsidisation is limited, especially as the better off have access to their own provider networks as well as government facilities.

Pakistan is now ranked as a lower-middle income country so it should increasingly be able to rely on domestic resources to finance health care. On many occasions the government has documented universal health coverage as its prime agenda for the health sector. However, to make progress, more serious efforts are required to reform health policy, revenue collection, resource pooling, resource allocation, purchasing and health care provision.

There are a number of dimensions that need the particular attention of policy-makers in Pakistan:

  1. Health care is now a provincial function and the four provincial governments can set their own priorities in their respective provinces. Although there is a new Ministry at federal level, consensus between the four provincial governments on financing and the scope of services would be essential to pursue the agenda of universal health coverage.
  2. Considering the currently constrained fiscal space it is unlikely that the government will be able to enhance allocations to the health sector substantially, without expanding the tax base and improving tax collection. Other sustainable modes of health financing should be explored besides general taxes.
  3. It is essential to set up a health system that offers comprehensive care and where the primary health care level has a strong gatekeeping function. From the universal health coverage perspective, a controlled referral system needs to be implemented.
  4. Medical practice in the country is alarmingly unregulated. Moreover, it is costly at the point of service delivery. For universal health coverage to materialise, an appropriate skills mix is a key policy instrument to save costs, while provider behaviour needs to be regulated for the provision of standardised, quality care.

Malik MA. 2015. Universal health coverage assessment: Pakistan. Global Network for Health Equity (GNHE). Available at: http://gnhe.org.


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