Healthcare in Pakistan varies considerably, depending on several factors. Those living in larger cities will find that the healthcare available is adequate, whereas in rural areas it can be of an extremely poor standard.

Efforts to upgrade the healthcare system in Pakistan have been put into place, with plans to establish a universal healthcare programme by 2025. This is yet to show significant progress, though. 

Emergency response is unreliable, with limited numbers of ambulances. In the event of an emergency, taking a taxi or driving to the hospital can often be a wiser option.

Health insurance in Pakistan

Doctor assisting patient

Most expats moving to Pakistan for work will likely have their health insurance covered by their employers as part of their employment contract. For expats whose employers will not cover private health insurance, the cost can be significant, depending on the level of cover they choose and the number of dependants. Other factors affecting the cost of health insurance are one's health status and lifestyle habits. 

Pakistan is currently developing its universal healthcare and has recently launched the Sehat Sahulat Programme (SSP) for low-income families. This programme provides free healthcare to qualifying families for a wide range of healthcare services, including GP visits, maternity care, emergency services and in-patient hospital services. SSP is divided into two categories; Secondary Care and Priority Treatment. Priority Treatment offers a wider range of benefits, including for life-threatening diseases such as cardiac and neurological conditions.

Public healthcare in Pakistan

While Pakistan offers both public and private options, most expats opt for the latter. In fact, most expats employed by international companies or diplomatic missions operating in Pakistan will have a comprehensive health insurance plan set up for them, so they won't need to consider using public facilities while in the country. 

There are government-run hospitals that are low-cost and offer basic medical treatment, but the standard is typically quite low and not in line with what most expats, especially those from Western countries, would be accustomed to. Medical staff at public hospitals in Pakistan may also not be well-trained.

Private healthcare in Pakistan

Pakistan has many expensive private medical facilities, mostly located in the urban areas of Karachi and Lahore. It is highly recommended that expats take out comprehensive private health insurance if this isn't provided by their employer. Medical insurance should also include provision for the possibility of emergency medical evacuation to a nearby country with superior facilities.

Pharmacies in Pakistan

Pharmacies are readily available in urban centres, but outlets are often understaffed when it comes to qualified personnel. Anyone travelling to outlying rural areas for extended periods should pack basic medications. Those living in rural areas may need to travel to larger towns to fill prescriptions.

There have been some improvements recently. Online services have reduced the need for people to physically visit a pharmacy and people can instead have their medication delivered to them, at least in urban areas. 

It is important to note that some medications may be known by a different name in Pakistan. It's best to bring ample supply when moving to the country and speak to a general practitioner about alternatives that may be available. 

Health hazards in Pakistan

Malaria is a risk in rural areas, and polio and dengue fever are common too. The tap water in the country is also considered unsafe to drink, expats should avoid ice in their drinks at restaurants and purchase bottled water at all times.

Earthquakes and flooding are other health hazards for expats to be aware of in Pakistan. It's essential to monitor the local news and follow the authorities' instructions when there are earthquake or flood warnings.  

Vaccinations for Pakistan

Healthcare by Bermix Studio from Unsplash

Pakistan is one of only two countries in the world where polio cases are still found. Expats must ensure they are vaccinated against the disease before travelling to the country. Although Covid-19 vaccination is not necessary to enter Pakistan, authorities have started conducting random Covid-19 testing at all international airports, so it's recommended that expats be vaccinated to avoid being given quarantine instructions.

Pakistan is also on alert for measles and typhoid, expats must be up-to-date with their vaccinations. Other essential vaccinations for travelling to Pakistan are: 

  • Rabies
  • Yellow fever
  • Influenza
  • Chickenpox
  • Shingles
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis

Expats are also encouraged to take precautions against cholera by washing their hands regularly and avoiding food considered safe.

Emergency services in Pakistan

There are different numbers for different services and regions in Pakistan, but Rescue 1122 is the most widespread and should be called in case of an emergency. There are both public and private ambulance services in Pakistan, but most of the ambulance services in the country are run by NGOs.

While this does assist with the high number of medical emergencies reported daily in the country, many of the staff are untrained and unable to provide advanced life support pre-hospital. For this reason, expats with an extensive private life insurance plan should opt for private ambulance services where possible.

Expat Health Insurance

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