Trans people in Pakistan are now eligible for free medical treatment — including transition-related care.
Pakistan’s free health insurance program was previously available only to people earning less than $2 a day. But trans people will be given special health cards to allow them to access the free insurance, regardless of their financial status.
Prime Minister Imran Khan said his government is “taking responsibility” for trans people, who are routinely denied medical treatment and face discrimination by health professionals.
Dr. Zafar Mirza, a special aide for health services, added: “It is part of a grand program to provide health insurance not just to the poor but the vulnerable sections of society, including … transgender (people). Any person who identifies as transgender is eligible for this health insurance program.”
The health cards will be immediately available to anyone who is officially registered as trans.
Pakistan officially recognized trans people in 2012 and added a third gender option to official documents. In 2017, the national census counted trans people for the first time and found a population of 10,418. But charities estimate that the trans population is much greater at 500,000 or more.
Unfortunately, many trans people aren’t aware of the country’s new third gender option, while others have opted not to register out of fear of stigma — meaning they won’t be able to access the new free healthcare.
“Only a few transgender people know about this and the first step is to spread the word,” explained Aisha Mughal, a trans rights expert. “It is just the beginning.”
Other trans rights activists emphasize that access to healthcare is just the first step. Trans people face a great deal of discrimination in Pakistan, including by health professionals, who may even ridicule trans patients.
“The scheme is good but healthcare providers need to be sensitized,” Zehrish Khan, project manager to Gender Interactive Alliance, said. “Many of us resort to drugs and alcohol because we need psychiatric help and empathy to overcome the continuous harassment we face.”
According to Mirza, the government plans to set up separate hospital wards for trans folks, as doctors often deny trans people treatment because they can’t decide whether to place them in a male or female ward.