From Pakistan to India — A new lease on life

It was his life’s race against time. Lahori resident Aslam needed an urgent liver transplant for his 18-year-old daughter Saima. He knew he had no choice but to look outside his resources, and get her the best possible specialised treatment.

But unlike other Pakistanis and Indians, Aslam could not pack his family’s bags and leave for Europe or the US. He could have followed that advice if the cost of treatment in another country had not been prohibitive.

Yet, it wasn’t too long before he found himself applying for a visa for his daughter’s treatment. Soon, he and his family landed in another country one closest to home but where they least imagined going to for help: India.

Without a language barrier, and keeping the political rhetoric aside, a Pakistani can literally get a new lease on life across the border.

The turning point in Saima’s life came when Aslam found a medical travel facilitator online.

On the one hand, the world of Google facilitates panic when it diagnoses a terminal illness instead of a cold; on the other hand, the same world allows us to connect with strangers who can prove to be game changers.

Also read: Chitral quake survivors recover from trauma through online clinics

The next few days went by in a whirlwind. The Indian company built Aslam’s confidence by getting him in touch with multiple doctors for a second opinion, and even went on to facilitate the family’s visa.

Aslam’s story isn’t the only one where a patient crosses the India-Pakistan border for treatment.

Last year, five-year-old Basma from Pakistan had also been granted a visato India for an emergency transplant surgery. There are now many tales like hers, sometimes with footnotes on how they were financially helped by Indians.

Cross-border healthcare marred by visa woes

Big Indian hospitals like the gigantic Apollo in Delhi (where it is easier to get lost than to get treatment) report around 500 patients from Pakistanevery month. Many of the unwell need a liver transplant, which costs between 20 to 32 lakh rupees.

There are also several who fly to the Southern city of Chennai, which is considered the centre for any heart-related treatment.

But of course, God proposes, man disposes. Nothing binds Indians and Pakistanis like our shared visa woes.

Hopefully, getting an Indian visa to travel for health reasons will soon become easier. As the Indian government eases up norms to promote medical tourism, patients from almost 150 countries will be able to send their applications for e-visas. However, the process will not be flawless, since it takes years for a system to change, and even longer for mistrust to dissipate.

Take a look: To India, for a liver

Already, with hope in their hearts and finances on a budget, countless families are willing to go to India, where doctors and families are welcoming them with open arms. Without any language barrier, and keeping the political rhetoric aside, a Pakistani can literally get a new lease on life across the border.

Why choose India for healthcare

No one in the country has a correct figure on the number of people who visit for medical tourism every year. A million may be an exaggeration but not by far.

India is slowly challenging Asia’s traditional medical strongholds like Thailand and Singapore. Before medical tourism, the country was struggling with something entirely different.

Encouraged by movies like Slumdog Millionaire, gawking foreigners spent their precious itinerary on staring at impoverished families, their faces lit with amazement at the sight of slums. Poverty tourism is nothing new but for a developing country like India, trying to make itself a relevant investment hub, this always struck a sour note.

The reverse health drain evident in the country stems from several developments, competitive treatment costs, quick medical assistance, unlike in the west, and a burgeoning infrastructure that has many business houses investing in health care.

Recently, I was at a much smaller clinic in Delhi, and my sister pointed out: even that felt like being in a lavish hotel. With the healthcare sector pushing back, the joke is now on the first world.

Its residents are among the hordes heading to India, some for even basic affordable dental care. Many prefer to travel on a tourist visa, and some seek wellness rather than treatment.

Health farms are the other big business. If one is feeling tired, there is the option of yoga in the Himalayas, and if one prefers socialising, every second metro city offers detox centres which in earlier times were solely associated with those who couldn’t hold their drinks but have now expanded to anything from meditation to literally paying for some fresh air.

In other words, at these places you could be spending through your pocket but without finding the real meaning of your life!

But global healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry is as much a big business as it is political. Getting sucked in is easy till you realise not everyone cares about your health.

Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy was as controversial as it was shocking; yet, because of the publicity it generated, many paranoid women spent their dollars getting the same treatment — even though many did not need it.

In the end, the business always wins.

A word of caution: when the going gets good, there will always be some quacks waiting to take advantage of the unsuspecting. So even if your neighbour made a successful medical trip to India, the research is yours because the onus is also on you.

Read next: My baby would be alive if it wasn’t for medical negligence

Getting a personal connect — that intangible bind between an Indian and a Pakistani — is the bonus. And there are many such stories in our hospitals.

Amidst the Russians and the Afghanis that are also a common sight, was the tragic tale of Abiha, a 13-year-old patient from Pakistan, who passed away in India.

Despite their loss, such was her family’s gratitude for the doctors and the family they lived with that an emotional father insisted his daughter was meant to take her last breath in India.

Indian PM Modi, Afghan President Ghani jointly inaugurate Kabul’s Stor Palace

KABUL: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the newly-restored Stor Palace in Kabul with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani via video link on Monday, Tolo News reported.

“In our hearts and minds, Indians and Afghans have always been close friends,” the Indian premier said, adding that India’s 1.25 billion people will “always be on Afghanistan’s side in terms of working towards peace and stability”.

The Indian PM said that joint initiatives between the two countries symbolised “the foundations of a modern Afghanistan”.

“India will always work with you (Afghanistan) for a bright future,” he said.

President Ghani thanked India for helping restore the historical building of Stor Palace. “Let me express my most sincere thanks to the government and people of India for standing beside us in days of happiness and sorrow.”

Ghani said bilateral relations between India and Afghanistan are ‘developing’.

Earlier this year, India and Afghanistan inaugurated the $300 million Friendship Dam in Herat. India also gifted Kabul a symbolic gift of democracy, its new parliament building in December last year.

India has poured more than $1 billion into Afghanistan reconstruction projects and humanitarian aid, making it one of the largest donors to the war-torn country.

Fazl warns Sindh govt against making ‘anti-madressah laws’

KARACHI: Head of his own faction of the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman warned the Sindh government on Sunday to refrain from making laws ‘discriminatory against madressahs’ and other religious bodies, otherwise religious leaders, scholars and cadres would have no other option but to take ‘direct action’.

“Those who are targeting madressahs are serving the agenda of their foreign masters,” said Maulana Rehman while addressing a workers’ convention organised by the party’s Karachi organisation at the Jamia Anwaarul Uloom, Mehran Town in Korangi.

He said all religious schools were being run within the ambit of law of the land and the religious parties and the madressah management boards would not accept at any cost if the government wind them up.

He said certain forces were targeting madressahs in the country despite the fact that they were being run within the ambit of the laws of the country, yet the rulers were trying to tighten the noose around them in the name of new laws, which would not be acceptable to the religious bodies.

“We’ll utterly reject it if the Sindh government tried to make a law without taking ulema and madressah managements on board,” Mr Rehman said.

“I warn you,” he said loudly, “don’t impose dictatorship on madressahs in the garb of democracy. We’ll smash all such attempts to smithereens.”

“You’ll have to keep us happy if you want to continue your rule, otherwise, your government can never last longer,” he claimed.

He said his party had no presence in the Punjab Assembly which passed the women’s rights bill. “Yet, I went on protest and forced the government to withdraw its bill because it was against the Sunnah and the Holy Quran,” he said, adding, a similar situation arose in Peshawar, which too was aborted “because of our struggle”.

“Recently, we got removed all those clauses from the draft law about Halal Food Authority, which were against the Quran and the Sunnah before it was formally passed in the parliament.”

He said anti-Islam forces wanted to make such laws aimed at tightening the noose around Muslims and the ‘righteous ulema’ but, “we’ll not allow such attempts to succeed”.

He said people blamed him for being a supporter of the government. “Yes, I am a supporter of the government, but can anyone prove and tell me if I have bargained on principles while supporting the government.”

He claimed the Sindh government’s draft law on madressahs was ‘mala fide’.

“We’ll resist it if it [law] was promulgated by force. We’ll not let the government implement the law if it tried to do it without consulting us.”

“Rest assured that no one will be permitted to pass a law against Sharia and madressahs.

“Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam does not represent any particular school of thought but the whole ummah in the National Assembly. We do politics in the world not for some specific jurisprudence but the whole humanity,” said the Maulana.

Rainy Rio wraps up challenging Olympics on upbeat tropical note

RIO: A blustery storm, a touch of melancholy and a sense of pride converged at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on Sunday as Brazil breathed a collective sigh of relief at having pulled off South America’s first Games.

After a gruelling 17 days, Rio de Janeiro cast aside early struggles with empty venues, security scares and a mysterious green diving pool to throw a huge Carnival-like party.

Samba dancers, singers, drummers and a giant plumed macaw float mixed with hundreds of athletes in the storied Maracana stadium while a final volley of fireworks lit up the night sky.

Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony. —Reuters
Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony. —Reuters

Brazilians came to the closing ceremony happy, many wearing the canary yellow jersey of the nation’s sports teams, having won two late gold medals in their two favourite sports, men’s soccer and volleyball.

But Sunday served up tough weather conditions for such a big party. High winds buffeted the Maracana,

Power briefly went out in the upper part of the stadium, and rain drenched performers and athletes as they entered the ceremony, many with medals hanging around their necks.

Athletes pose with dancers during the closing ceremony in the Maracana stadium.— AP
Athletes pose with dancers during the closing ceremony in the Maracana stadium.— AP

To the beat of traditional Brazilian music, Olympians danced and waved their countries’ flags to celebrate their place on the world’s premier sporting stage.

In the last of 306 medal ceremonies, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach draped the gold around the neck of Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, winner of the men’s marathon earlier in the day.

The city handed over the Olympic flag to Tokyo, site of the 2020 Summer Games, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared in the stadium dressed as popular video game character Mario, tunneling from Tokyo to Rio.

Bach declared the Rio Games closed and expressed hope that they had left a lasting mark on the metropolitan area of 12 million people.

“These Olympic Games are leaving a unique legacy for generations to come,” he said. “History will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.”

In a final symbolic act, the Olympic flame that had burned since Aug 5 was then extinguished in a downpour of artificial rain.

Tapping natural talent

In the midst of its worst economic recession since the 1930s, Brazil’s opening and closing ceremonies relied more on the country’s unique talents and natural beauty and less on expensive technology.

On Sunday, there was an ode to the white-clad lacemaking ladies and the forro music of the Northeast that sparked waves of pride among Brazilians.

Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe is seen on stage.— Reuters
Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe is seen on stage.— Reuters

One of the more stunning moments of the ceremony focused on the ancient art found in the Serra da Capivara National Park — a Unesco World Heritage site in northeastern Brazil featuring cave paintings, some more than 25,000 years old.

But the beauty was betrayed by Brazil’s tough times.

Just this week, the foundation that maintains the park said it could no longer do so because of a lack of funding.

For all the troubles before and during the Games, Rio will surely be remembered for great sporting moments.

People watch from the Mangueira slum fireworks exploding above the Maracana stadium during the closing ceremony.— AP
People watch from the Mangueira slum fireworks exploding above the Maracana stadium during the closing ceremony.— AP

There was the remarkable comeback of American swimmer Michael Phelps, who won five golds to reinforce his distinction as the most decorated Olympian of all time.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt drew down the curtain on his brilliant Olympic career by securing a sweep of the sprint titles for a third successive Games.

And American gymnast Simone Biles, the US flag bearer in the closing ceremony, kicked off her Olympic run by tying the record of four gold medals in a single Games.

But at times it was hard to focus on the sporting triumphs taking place across the sprawling city.

A low point for Rio came when Ryan Lochte, one of America’s most decorated swimmers, said he was robbed at gunpoint. That ignited further security concerns after a series of assaults against government ministers, athletes and tourists.

But Lochte’s story quickly unravelled, enraging Brazilians and Americans alike.

Brazilians could nevertheless take heart in the fact that there were no major mishaps or breaches after deadly attacks in Europe and the United States had prompted the biggest security operation in Brazil’s history with 85,000 troops.

‘Difficult moment’

“Even with all our problems we pulled off a good Olympics. Nothing too bad happened and I’d say it was better than expected,” said Nivea Araujo, a Rio resident attending the closing ceremony.

For many in the soccer-mad nation, the best Olympic moments happened in the Maracana, where Brazil defeated Germany in soccer on Saturday and pieced together a widely hailed opening ceremony despite the tight budget.

Rio won the right to host the Games in 2009, when the economy was booming and millions were pushing into the middle class.

“We are in a difficult moment as a country right now, we can’t hide that, but the Games were scheduled and I’m glad we could enjoy them,” said Alessandro Freitas, also from Rio.

One of the major concerns for Brazilians is what will be the final cost of the Games for the country and how much they actually helped improve the city’s infrastructure. Many Rio residents could not afford tickets to events, leaving them feeling on the sidelines of the city’s biggest undertaking.

And come Monday, with the Games no longer a distraction, Brazil gets back to its dour reality of duelling political and economic crises. An impeachment vote in coming days could lead to the permanent ouster of suspended President Dilma Rousseff.

Interim President Michel Temer, who was booed at the opening ceremony, decided not to attend the closing event.

Uber to launch in Karachi on Aug 25

KARACHI: Popular car ride-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc will launch its uberGo service in Karachi on Aug 25, making the metropolis the second Pakistani city it has expanded operations to this year.

The low-cost uberGo service will initially serve Clifton, Saddar Town, Jamshed Town, Gulshan-i-Iqbal Town, Liaquatabad, North Nazimabad, Gulberg Town, Malir Town and Korangi.

Trips in Karachi will be free the first weekend in celebration of the expansion.

Uber's statistics for Lahore since March 2016. ─Courtesy Uber
Uber’s statistics for Lahore since March 2016. ─Courtesy Uber

Typical uberGO vehicles include the Suzuki Swift, Toyota Vitz, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and other equivalent vehicles, whereas payment options include cash as well as the usual electronic payment options.

Uber's waiting times over a 15-day period in July 2016 in Lahore. ─Courtesy Uber
Uber’s waiting times over a 15-day period in July 2016 in Lahore. ─Courtesy Uber

Head of Pakistan Expansion Zohair Yousafi said: “Thousands of people have already downloaded the app in Karachi in anticipation. We like to say that cities choose us, instead of Uber choosing cities.”

“The response has been incredible in Lahore, so we are extremely excited to be launching in Karachi. Anyone can now enjoy an affordable, reliable and safe ride at the push of a button thanks to uberGO. The competitive price means using uberGO is the perfect option for anyone wanting to get around the city,” Yousafi said.

Uber Pakistan said every driver will pass through a rigorous screening process before they can use Uber.

The service requires drivers to provide a national identity card, driving license, car registration documents, a police verification certificate and a social referral character certificate.

All drivers must also go through comprehensive training on how to operate the app and attend a mandatory anti-sexual harassment seminar.

The app uses GPS-enabled maps to allow users to find the closest available driver, usually just minutes away.

Once requested, the rider sees the driver’s photo, name and car registration and can watch on their smartphone in real-time as the vehicle arrives.

They can also check whether others have had a good experience with the driver.

Uber is available on all iOS, Android and Windows smartphones.