Kemunited Specials: Shaukat Khanum Series--Interview of Imran Khan (Part 2)

By Moeed Ahmed, Unsa Ather, Muhammad Mohsin Ali, Ammar Anwar 

This is a special blog about the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre (SKMCH&RC) from students of King Edward Medical University. The blog has no conflicts of interest and is strictly related to healthcare with no political affiliations/conflicts. We thank the Management of Shaukat Khanum Hospital for allowing us to visit their facility and interviewing the CEO and the Chairman.

The second phase of our journey took us to Bani Gala, on a memorable trip none of us had dreamed of. At the behest of Dr. Faisal Sultan, we had been granted some time from the busy schedule of Imran Khan, the pioneer and founder of Shaukat Khanum Hospital. We undertook a memorable road trip, and finally reached Bani Gala just as the sun was setting over the beautiful valley.

We were treated extremely courteously and hospitably by the staff as we waited for Imran Khan. While we were doing so, former Kemcolian and Junoon band member Salman Ahmad wandered in, and joined us for a frank discussion with his Kemcolian juniors.

A while later, in walked a magnanimous personality, exuding confidence and humbleness at the same time. Imran Khan stood taller than all of us as he firmly shook our hands and beckoned us to start the interview. Here is a pithy recall of how the interview went:

How did you come up with the idea of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital?

My mother had cancer and it was then that I realized that there is no cancer hospital in Pakistan and how difficult and expensive the treatment of cancer is. I saw a person at Mayo Hospital who was attending his brother with lung cancer and he used to do labor work whole day.  So the basic concept was that if a poor person suffers from cancer, he has no way to get the treatment and the family is devastated. The family suffers a lot due to cancer. When they see their dear one in pain, they sell their things and go to quacks and it devastates the family. So the idea was to create a hospital where people can get treatment and do not have to worry about the money.

Tell us about your struggle for Shaukat Khanum Hospital.

It was more difficult than cricket which was a struggle as well. Life is a struggle but sport is greater struggle. It teaches you the most how to do struggle.  There is nothing in the world more competitive than sport.  When you rise high in sport, you have to pass through a long process. If I had not passed through that process, I wouldn’t have survived here. It was much more difficult than that. There I was competing within a structure but here, I was in an uncharted territory and had to face a lot of issues but because of cricket, I had learnt the dynamics of ups & downs and to cope with difficult time. I had got those skills and my temperament had been developed due to which I was able to do this struggle.

How difficult was it to do this all from scratch being a person not related to the medical profession and how did you manage it?

The first problem was that all the people in medical profession used to say that it’s not possible and that the cancer patients can’t have a free treatment as it is so expensive.  Then I was unable to find anyone to set up a specialized cancer hospital. It took me two to three years to find the people. Lekin Mera imaan hai kay jab aap give up nahin  karte aur apnay mission ki taraf lagay rehte hain aur wo mission koi zaat kay ooper nahin  hota tou phir Allah kahin na kahin har jagah aap k liye openings de deta hai. Then I found my cousin Dr. Nausherwan Burki. Perhaps, I havn’t seen a person in the medical profession as versatile as him. He knew the American system and without him I couln’t to do it. He managed the medical side and I did the fundraising. He had the biggest contribution. It’s not about creating a building but about creating a system and he set up that all.

How did you come up with the right people for the Board of Governors?

Dr. Parvez Hassan and Razak Dawood who set up LUMS helped me full time.

Among all of your achievements, where do you rate Shaukat Khanum Hospital?

Mai zindagi ko aese tou nahin daikhta. Mai zindagi ko aese daikhta hun kay zindagi aik stepping stone hai. Aap jab se paida hotay hain, aap ki evolution hona shuru ho jati hai. Jo log ziada achieve karte hain un ki sab se bari ye cheez hoti hai kay wo har maazi se seekhtay hain. Jo bhi aap kay zindagi mae goals hotay hain. Un goals ki taraf aap har experience ko utilize karte hain aur jab aap aik goal pe pohnchtay hain tou aap retire ho kay ghar nahin baith jatay. Phir aap aik aur goal set kar letay hain. Achievement tou satisfaction hoti hai aik goal tak pohnchnay mae. Wo Iqbal ka shair hai na ‘’Sitaron kay agay jahan aur bhi hain.’’ Tou jab aap aik sitaray pe pohnchtay hain, us kay baad aglay jahan kay liye janay ki koshish karte hain. Aur jab tak aap ye karte rehte hain, insaan evolve karta rehta hai. Jis din aap ka challenge ruk gaya, us din insaan down. Koi plateau nahin hoti zindagi mae. Har insaan mae human potential hai jo Allah ne kisi aur makhlooq mae nahin daala lekin us ka proviso ye hai kay jitney baray aap kay goals hon utna aap apnay potential ko utilize karain.

How do you separate Shaukat Khanum Hospital from politics?

It has no connection with politics. No distinction is made between the people of any party. There is a system of merit. No one is inducted based on his affiliation with PTI. It was created with the purpose of centre of excellence with equal treatment.

How do you think we can prevent doctors from leaving the country?

29 doctors have joined Lady Reading Hospitals from overseas. This is a great achievement. If you provide doctors suitable work conditions they are ready to come back and serve.

What percentage of the country's budget should be allocated to the health system?

The current percentage (3.4 percent) is extremely insufficient, and it needs to be improved at least 3 times. If we increase our revenues and tax returns we will get more money which can then be invested on health and education.                                       

Do you think there should be a technocratic system in place, where Health Professionals become ministers and secretaries?

Obviously if the health minister is a professional he would be better able to do his job. But what matters is the system under him, which should be led to professionals. For instance, I did not know how to run Shaukat Khanum Hospital; all I had was an idea. There were professionals under me who implemented it. Similarly the health minister is a government official; his job title is to bring forth a policy and oversee its implementation. The actual implementation is carried out by the professionals. 

How much is your role in the overall administration of Shaukat Khanum Hospital?

I am in the board of governors, but I hold no influence over the administrative process. If I did, it would be undermining the chief executive. When you appoint someone, you give them authority. My role is policy making; same is the case with the cabinet of any country: it brings forth policies which are then implemented upon by the professionals in their respective fields. It is unfortunate that we have a dearth of professionals, and we will have to bring more professionals for servicing the government.

What is your opinion about doctors entering politics?

Anyone can enter politics. It all depends on your inclination. I believe that doctors, being educated, should be more politicized. They should be opinion makers since they interact with people on a daily basis.

A couple of questions: firstly, Pakistan is facing dire problems with mental health; and secondly, Pakistan is still one of 3 countries where polio has not been eradicated. What is your opinion regarding this?

We have made remarkable achievements regarding polio. KP faced this issue the most and they have done wonderful immunization programs that have been internationally acclaimed. Bill Gates, who is leading the worldwide assault against Polio, called me and he was impressed with our progress. WHO has also made some visits regarding this.
Secondly, I agree that mental health issues are not recognized in Pakistan. This is a large area that needs investment, and sadly, we don't invest in health. Our per capita expenditure on health is negligible.

What are your future goals regarding Shaukat Khanum Hospital?

We are making Shaukat Khanum Hospital in Karachi.

Any message for medical students and doctors?

Jo medical profession hai na, woh Allah ka kaam hai. Agar aap is ko sahi tarah karain to ye Allah ka kaam hai. And unfortunately, like other professions, some people get distracted; they get into making money and forget that when you heal someone in pain, you get Allah's blessings. So my criticism sometimes is only over this, that people start serving their monetary aims and forget how much this profession contributes to society. That happens sometimes, but mostly I have met great doctors, who work for humanity and contribute positively to society.

That's all, I believe.


After this we gathered around for a group photo with Imran Khan, following which he took his leave, leaving us in awe of his humble yet magnanimous personality.

We entered Bani Gala with much excitement and anticipation; we left it with excitement and satisfaction at having achieved a milestone that all of us would remember forever.


The work Shaukat Khanum Hospital does has saved the lives of millions of people. It has provided people of an underprivileged country with state of the art facilities for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The amazing thing about all this is the transparency which the hospital has maintained in its operations.

Your donation, be it a text message donating Rs. 20, or a sum amounting to millions, means life or death for cancer patients. And in many instances, it means the survival of an entire family.

So do donate as much as you can for this noble and worthy cause. At the end, we are all going to be defined by the deeds we did, and what deed can be greater or nobler than saving the life of a fellow human in need?

Haven't read Part 1? Head over there to read the all exclusive interview with Dr. Faisal Sultan, as Kemunited takes you through a tour of the largest cancer hospital in Pakistan.


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