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The Express Tribune Editorial 17 April 2020

Deaths with cause unknown

Two hundred-odd deaths in Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, in two weeks’ time are just about normal, according to sources at hospitals and mortuaries. But the figure, these days, is said to have risen. During a recent TV interview, Dr Seemi Jamali, the Director of JPMC, Karachi’s biggest public-sector hospital, said that over the last 15 days, there has been a 21% rise year-on-year in the total number of patients either brought dead or dying within hours after arrival. In what substantiates the JPMC director’s account, the Edhi Foundation says that the number of bodies received at their mortuaries in Karachi between April 1 and 13 is 388 as against 230 bodies received during the same period last year. This shows a significant difference of 158.
What caused the deaths of those brought dead at the JPMC or expiring within hours of arrival remains officially unknown and cannot be, for sure, linked to the coronavirus. However, a few such deaths — i.e. those happening on arrival or hours later — at a renowned privately-run hospital is what raises the alarm. Dr Abdul Bari Khan, the CEO of Indus Hospital, has confirmed to the media that during the last couple of days, a total of four people were brought to his hospital either dead or nearing expiry, and all of them were found to have contracted the coronavirus.
That such deaths may have also been happening at other hospitals in the city — in fact in the entire country — cannot be ruled out. While the official coronavirus death toll across the country stands at 128, as of April 16, the number of deaths with unknown cause does raise a big question mark on the authenticity of the official figures. There is thus the need for all hospitals across the county to be bound to test patients brought to the hospital dead or serious for the coronavirus so that the actual number of deaths from the microbe could be ascertained, and a counter-strategy can be adjusted accordingly.


Scapegoating WHO

President Donald Trump’s decision to suspend funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO) has met with furious blowback from all and sundry. Even for groups that normally support him, this was a bridge too far. International leaders, such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, were quick to defend the WHO, while even domestic allies such as the Chamber of Commerce said, “Cutting the WHO’s funding during the Covid-19 pandemic is not in US interests given the organization’s critical role assisting other countries — particularly in the developing world — in their response.”
The heads of the European Union and the UN also slammed the move, and while Democratic members of Congress vowed to oppose the move and force Trump to reverse course, time may not be on their side. Even apolitical figures are accusing Trump of scapegoating the WHO to distract Americans from his own spectacular failures in responding to the pandemic. Remember that by cutting about 15% of the WHO budget, Trump is also effectively defunding efforts to combat HIV, polio, ebola, cholera, and a host of other diseases. Of late, Trump has been attacking the WHO and how it took Chinese assurances regarding Beijing’s initial handling of the Wuhan outbreak at face value.
While this is true, as is the fact that WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was full of praise for China and President Xi Jinping in January, so was Trump. The fact is that while China may have well downplayed the threat presented by the virus, as many are suggesting, the WHO could not know this until the Chinese granted them access. US intelligence had already determined this much in early January, meaning that Trump should have known the risk Covid-19 presented, but he was just too lazy to read the file. Now just as the Bush Administration’s corruption and incompetence allowed the preventable 9/11 attacks to happen and destroy American society, the Trump Administration’s corruption and incompetence have led to allowing the Covid-19 outbreak to happen.
Much like 2001, in 2020, an incompetent American president is picking the wrong fight, and thousands of Americans will have to pay the price in blood.


Clean drinking water?

Water is life, and clean drinking water is health. Unfortunately, both the significance and signification of this common adage seem to have been lost on our governments. Seventy years have gone by, yet the rulers have failed to provide clean drinking water to the people. A report in this newspaper says even after a year of its formation, the Punjab Aab-e-Pak Authority (PAPA) — which is tasked with providing clean drinking water across the province — remains dysfunctional. Obviously, this project, like most schemes aimed at bringing about improvements in public health, has fallen victim to bad governance and official apathy.
The provincial government had allocated Rs7.5 billion for the project but, for inexplicable reasons, it has transferred this money to other provinces. The authority’s PC-1 has not yet been approved, and the service rules and regulations department has not okayed the appointment of employees at the authority due to which a permanent chief executive officer is yet to be hired. Since the finance department has not provided funds for the establishment of the authority, it does not have its own office building. Now the district monitoring officer of the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) has been given the additional charge of the PAPA’s CEO and he uses the WASA’s office to look after the affairs of the authority. Not only does the authority lack funds, but it is unable to fully utilise the allocated funds due to circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic. However, lack of interest on the part of the government is mainly responsible for the PAPA remaining dysfunctional.
As it usually happens, NGOs have stepped in to fill the gap. They are assisting the provincial government in restoring dysfunctional water filtration plants in Lahore, Gujranwala, Sargodha and Faisalabad. The Punjab Governor is said to have been working hard for the clean water project. People in developing countries need clean air, clean water and ever more food.
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