Pakistani-American oncologist calls writing off $650,000 patient debt a 'blessed opportunity'

This undated photo shows the building of the Arkansas Cancer Clinic in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, United States. The clinic was set up by Pakistani-American oncologist, Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq, to treat cancer patients belonging to an underserved community. It became fully operational in 1999. In February, it was merged with a local hospital. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq)
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Updated 14 January 2021

Pakistani-American oncologist calls writing off $650,000 patient debt a 'blessed opportunity'

  • Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq sent his patients greeting cards ahead of Christmas announcing they no longer needed to pay him overdue service charges
  • He took the step after he realized many of his patients had lost their ability to pay due to the coronavirus pandemic 

KARACHI: The patients of Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq, an oncologist in the United States, got an unexpected surprise ahead of Christmas break last year.
The greeting cards sent to them from Atiq’s Arkansas Cancer Clinic in Pine Bluff had a special message: their outstanding payments, which collectively amounted to $650,000 across patients, had been written off.
“There were around 200 patients who owed the clinic $650,000,” Atiq told Arab News in a telephone interview from Little Rock, the capital of Arkansas, earlier this week. “But we felt we did not need the money.”
“They wanted to pay their dues but we realized that many of them could not afford our services since their ability to pay was badly hit by the [coronavirus] pandemic,” he said. “We thought it was a wise thing to write off their debt and we did it.”
Atiq described what he had done as a “blessed opportunity” to help the community: “Anybody else would probably have done the same.” 
Born and raised in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, Atiq graduated from Khyber Medical College before going to the United States, namely Chicago and New York, for higher education in the early 1990s.

An undated mugshot of Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq, a Pakistani-American oncologist, who has done significant social work for communities in the United States and Pakistan. Last year, he made headlines for writing off $650,000 in debt owed by his clinic's patients. (Photo courtesy: Dr. Omar Taimoor Atiq) 

The oncologist set up the Arkansas Cancer Clinic in 1999 to treat patients from an underserved community of Pine Bluff. The clinic, which provided cancer treatment from the diagnostic stage to chemotherapy, merged with a local hospital last year in February after Atiq decided to devote more time to research work at a state university.
Around five years ago, Atiq started working at a medical center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, appointing two oncologists at his clinic to see patients in his absence. Eventually both left and Atiq had to make a decision:
“Either I could give full time to my clinic or stay at the university where I was doing some important work for the state,” Atiq said. “Ultimately, I thought it was necessary for me to stay at the university. That is when I decided to merge the clinic with the local hospital,.”
Despite his professional engagements, Atiq also remains actively involved in community development work not only in the US but also in Pakistan where he has been supporting various health and social initiatives, including projects launched by the Pakistan Human Development Fund (PHDF).
“The Fund is working on basic health care in rural areas where villagers are explained how to disinfect water,” the oncologist said. “The midwives are also trained under the same initiative to handle deliveries with sterilized instruments. At one point, we also agreed to focus on adult literacy, especially among women who play a vital role in bringing up children.”
People familiar with Atiq describe him as a patriotic Pakistani who cares a lot about his community back home in Pakistan.
“I first met Dr. Atiq in 2006, so I have known him for almost 14 years,” said Shoaib Kothawala, a Los Angeles-based Pakistani-American business tycoon and a major donor to the PHDF. “He is an exceptional human being who is very honest and dedicated to his profession. I also believe he is a very patriotic Pakistani who has done a great deal for the people of the two countries he embraces.”

Pakistan announces all incoming foreign travelers being tested for COVID-19 at airports 

Updated 26 min 36 sec ago

Pakistan announces all incoming foreign travelers being tested for COVID-19 at airports 

  • Travelers especially from the UK and South Africa to face mandatory testing upon arrival in Pakistan
  • Those who test positive would be quarantined, National Command and Operation Center says

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), the Pakistani government’s central body dealing with the pandemic, said on Monday all foreign travelers to Pakistan were now being tested at airports to stem the spread of the coronavirus as Pakistan battles a second wave of the disease. 

Pakistan has reported 534,041 COVID-19 cases so far, and 11,318 deaths.

“All foreign travelers especially from UK and South Africa were being tested at the airports,” the NCOC said in a statement. “Those tested positive for coronavirus were being quarantined.”

It added: “The government would keep the record of vaccinated persons; even those who traveled from abroad would have to provide a legal document confirming that they had been vaccinated.”

Last month, Pakistan was among the countries across the globe that shut their borders to Britain on due to fears about a highly infectious new coronavirus strain. 

India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a mutated variant of the virus had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely though some travel has resumed. 

Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada. France shut its border to arrivals of people and trucks from Britain, closing off one of the most important trade arteries with mainland Europe.