Hope amid virus gloom
With pandemic gloom surrounding all of us, a ray of hope has lately emerged. A potentially promising therapy to treat patients infected with Covid-19 has yielded fruitful result this week following successful clinical trials. The first Covid-19 patient, who had received plasma therapy, has fully recovered at isolation ward in Liaquat University Hospital (LUH) Jamshoro and was ready to be discharged. The patient whose successful recovery has kindled hope in other critically ill Covid-19 patients was donated the plasma by a cured patient on May 3.
With coronavirus vaccine at least 12 to 18 months away and sharp rise in cases, this success should be seen as a seminal breakthrough in the fight against the contagion. “The patient’s first sample was taken on May 13 and then another was collected on May 14 and both turned out to be negative. We are now in the process of discharging him from Covid-9 isolation ward. But he will have to stay in the hospital’s medicine intensive care unit (ICU) in view of his co- morbidities,” said a senior doctor at the hospital.
Having recovered, the patient has become the first to successfully receive plasma therapy in LUH after its clinical trial was approved by Sindh government in April as a part of passive immunisation suggested by noted hematologist Dr Tahir Shamsi. “After convalescent plasma therapy on May 3 under government permission for clinical trial on experimental basis, the patient’s condition had improved considerably, otherwise he had been serious,” said the doctor. According to an encyclopedia entry, plasma is the often-forgotten part of blood. White blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are important to body function, but plasma also plays a key role. This fluid carries the blood components throughout the body.
Some health organisations call plasma ‘the gift of life’. It is a critical part of the treatment for many serious health problems. This is why there are blood drives asking people to donate blood plasma.
Another cut in interest rate
The State Bank of Pakistan announced another cut, of 100 basis points, in its policy rate ahead of the weekend, bringing it down to 8% from 13.25% pre-Covid. The central bank hopes the cut will be enough to provide some support to the economy, which is being battered by the impact of the Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown. The bank’s decision was helped by the fact that the inflation rate has also been on the decline, thanks largely to decreasing fuel prices. Unfortunately, the bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC), which announced the rate cut, also acknowledged the limitations to whatever fixes it can attempt. This is because of the “non-economic origin” of the current economic predicament, and the fact that a “temporary disruption of economic activity” was required to address it.
While the move could potentially stimulate some economic activity, the bank is hamstrung by the fact that easy access to credit is still limited in the country, especially at consumer-level. The bank may pat itself on the back over how “successive policy rate cuts and sizeable cheap loans provided through the SBP’s enhanced refinancing facilities have helped maintain credit flows, bolster the cash flow of borrowers, and support asset prices”, but this is a stop-gap arrangement, not a solution. As far as business lending goes, while loans may help them brave through a rough patch, much like consumers, it will still be difficult for them to survive unless their incomes return to normal levels soon. That cannot happen until we move past the lockdown phase.
While the bank’s policies provide a temporary cushion, amid a lockdown, there is little it can do to avoid the predicted economic contraction for this fiscal year, or even bolster the estimates for next year. That task goes to the government, and its planning remains debatable. Even the ‘positive’ of declining inflation was not of its own doing. Despite the global oil price crash, the inflation rate for April 2020 was actually higher than the same month last year, when fuel prices were stable. The fact of the matter is that any recovery will be dependent on international support, and international support will be dependent on effective policymaking by the government.