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Dawn Editorial 21 March 2020

Time for unity

WITH a gesture that has become something of a rarity in our polarised national discourse, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has announced a ‘no criticism policy’ with regard to Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government. Urging increased coordination and unity between the centre and the provinces, Mr Bhutto-Zardari said, “We should not waste our energies over criticism, the blame game and political point-scoring. It’s not the time to criticise the prime minister and I would not blame him or anyone. Instead, I should hope that he and every single citizen of Pakistan can win this fight.” The revelation came as the federal and provincial governments battle the unprecedented challenges unleashed by the fast-spreading Covid-19, which has the potential to devastate global healthcare infrastructure and economies.
Given how toxic political rivalries can be in Pakistan, the ‘no criticism policy’ is a welcome and sensible step at a time when the country — and in fact the world — needs extraordinary leadership. This is a pandemic that takes no prisoners. In multiple countries, the effects of the outbreak have put immense pressure on public health systems and emergency services. Economic growth, too, has been severely affected, as lockdowns prevent regular business and workers are kept in their homes. In Pakistan, with nearly 500 confirmed cases and at least three reported deaths, Covid-19 is steadily testing the resources and capacity of a system which is far less sophisticated than that found in developed countries. Still, even with Pakistan’s economic and infrastructural limitations, the response of the provincial governments, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular, has been impressive. Sindh has recorded the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the country, and its political leadership has done well to learn from other countries and enforce closure where possible. On social media, both KP and Sindh spokespersons are active in messaging and engagement and are visible in fighting misinformation. These are timely steps in a battle that is colossal and multipronged, but one that can perhaps be won if the political leadership is on one page and sound decisions are taken.
As reports of shortage of protective gear for medical staff around the country increase with more and more people testing positive, the centre and provinces must sit together and decide how to overcome this challenge. It is imperative to procure testing kits and protective gear, and the NDMA chairman yesterday gave details on the availability of these. In the case that many doctors are infected, the government should prepare a contingency plan as other countries have done by calling on retired medical officers to return to duty. Circumstances demand working in tandem towards making resources available and containing the spread. As the world grapples with frightening new realities in the war against Covid-19, it would serve humanity well if our leaders demonstrate solidarity and work together.

 
 

Iran’s crisis

COVID-19 is pushing the healthcare systems of even some of the world’s most developed states to the edge, with governments and medical professionals battling to prevent infections from rising every day.
Meanwhile, the threat to less-developed states is even greater, as dilapidated health systems in these countries means that unless stringent measures are taken, a disaster is likely.
Considering the situation, all states should be expected to put aside petty differences and combine forces against the coronavirus — a foe that knows no borders.
However, it is clear that some in the international community are bent upon enforcing measures that can only be described as cruel and inhuman in such times of global crisis.
The US, for example, has refused to ease sanctions on Iran despite the fact that the Islamic Republic is amongst the countries hardest hit by the virus.
“Our policy of maximum pressure on the regime continues,” Brian Hook, Washington’s point man for Iranian affairs, has said.
Even in normal circumstances it could be argued that American sanctions against Iran are wrong and unjustified.
But as Tehran grapples with a severe health crisis, there is absolutely no justification for the US to bully others in order to prevent help getting to Iranians.
There has been valid criticism, even from within the Iranian establishment, that the authorities were not being transparent about the number of infections and deaths.
Indeed, if the government had been more open about the situation it may have been easier to deal with it when Covid-19 first emerged.
However, for now this is an academic discussion; Iran needs urgent measures to combat the virus.
There have been some 1,500 deaths in the country, while the Iranian health ministry has said 50 people are being infected every hour.
Keeping this alarming situation in mind, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has urged world leaders to “show utmost compassion” and lift the sanctions against Iran.
Also China, where the outbreak started, has called for Iran to be given sanctions relief for humanitarian reasons.
America’s differences with Iran are geopolitical and ideological and go back decades.
However, at this time nations must move beyond such narrow considerations and think purely along humanitarian lines.
The dire situation in Iran demands that the world community work together to fight the contagion and let essential supplies into the country to save lives.

 
 

Rabies control

OVER the past few years, there seems to have been an alarming rise in the number of dog-bite cases in Sindh. This, despite repeated mass dog culling campaigns carried out by the authorities, which are not only cruel and barbaric, but evidently ineffective in controlling the stray dog population. Last year, the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre recorded 10,850 cases of dog-bites. The year before that, 8,000 cases were registered. While most dogs that bite are not rabid, there are still far too many such cases. In 2019, approximately 24 people died from the deadly virus in Sindh. Most were brought to hospitals in Karachi for treatment — days or months too late. Through no fault of their own, most citizens are still unaware of the exact steps to take after being bitten by a potentially rabid animal, while a shortage of rabies vaccines continues to plague the healthcare sector. Without quick and timely intervention — washing the wound with soap; receiving an immunoglobulin by a doctor; and being administered the rabies vaccine — the patient cannot be helped. In 99pc of all such cases, an agonising death is inevitable.
Following WHO’s recommendations of carrying out vaccination and birth control of stray dogs — the only humane and effective way of controlling their population and minimising the chances of infectious disease — the Sindh government recently launched a helpline that would allow citizens to complain about the presence of stray dogs in their localities and aid the government in its trap-and-neuter efforts. In January, the Sindh High Court pushed the government to hurry up. In that same month, three deaths from the deadly virus were reported in the province. Now, the SHC has once again intervened by directing Pemra to start airing public awareness messages about the helpline on all news channels in the province. This would certainly help, since most problems are rooted in a lack of either awareness or compassion.

 

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