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The Express Tribune Editorial 24 April 2020

Doctors’ concern

Our doctors have sounded the alarm. At press conferences in Karachi and Lahore, separated by a day, prominent healthcare providers have warned that a significant increase, of 40%, in the number of coronavirus cases in the country has been observed over the previous five days. The doctors — from the Pakistan Medical Association, the premier representative body of medical practitioners, and the Young Doctors Association — have demanded a stricter lockdown alerting that the Covid-19 cases will continue to increase exponentially over the next four weeks, to the extent of chocking the already weak and vulnerable healthcare system in the country. Noted health experts and scientists — though not present at any of the press conferences — have added their strong voice to the call for stricter restrictions on unnecessary movements of people. Such experts include former federal minister for science and technology Dr Ataur Rehman; Vice Chancellor, University of Health Sciences, Lahore, Dr Javed Akram; Head of Indus Hospital Karachi, Dr Abdul Bari; and others.
Latest figures on the coronavirus infections do substantiate the doctors’ concern: it took 46 days for the first 5,000 cases of the virus to emerge in the country, but it took only 12 days for this figure to get doubled. And, the number of deaths more than doubled — from 86 on April 11 to 220 only 12 days later. This is enough to indicate an exponential growth in the cases of the lethal virus. Our medical professionals are, thus, very rightly advising against congregating — whether at mosques or in the markets or at any other places. Their warnings constitute a strong possibility of things turning as severe as in China, Iran and European countries in case social distancing is not adopted in its true sense, most aptly under a strict lockdown. Unfortunately, the call from doctors does not go in sync with the counter-corona strategy adopted by a government that is terribly cash-strapped and is faced with a challenging conundrum of saving the lives of its people alongside protecting their livelihoods. Not an easy balancing act!


Disregarding precautions

It is good news that Prime Minister Imran Khan has tested negative for Covid-19. He thought it proper to undergo a test for the coronavirus after he met Faisal Edhi, a prominent social worker, who was later found to be suffering from the coronavirus disease. So the PM thought it proper to have him tested for the virus. He, however, did not take the precaution to go into self-isolation in the intervening period between undergoing the test and the time when the report came. By all standards of precaution, the PM should have quarantined himself in the intervening time in view of the fact that the virus is a fast spreader. Perhaps, he could not do so because of his very busy schedule as both the pandemic and its economic fallout are keeping him too preoccupied.
Now we hope that all those high-ups who would undergo the coronavirus test will voluntarily isolate themselves in the period between going for the test and receipt of the report. This precaution, like other preventive measures, is necessary to protect others from the virus. Those at the helm are supposed to set good examples to the common people to follow. This acquires special significance in the present context. Ironically, the majority in our society believes that a people get the kind of rulers that they deserve. This is a wholly erroneous notion. Examples are always set from above and not the other way around.
In the context of the prime minister’s medical test, a section of the media, as usual, displayed an irresponsible behaviour by announcing the test result even before it was made public. This tendency needs to be discouraged. A report in this newspaper says people living in villages are avoiding contacts with their relatives visiting especially from Karachi, Larkana and Sukkur. It is a wise approach, though apparently it looks like bad manners. No one should take it as being cold-shouldered.


Welcome injection

The coronavirus pandemic has hit Pakistan when it is not even prepared for medical undertakings like dengue or measles. Some, however, argue that the collapse of health infrastructure even in developed countries suggest that this pandemic would have overwhelmed our system irrespective of how well-prepared we had been. True, but the difference between the systems in other countries and here is that we are nowhere near adequately responding or bouncing back from this shock.
As the number of Covid-19 cases near 11,000 with more than 200 deaths, a glimmer of hope has emerged for our resource-starved public health sector. The World Health Organisation (WHO), with support from the UK’s Department of International Development, has reached out to Pakistan with £2.67 million aid. The money will be used to fill healthcare gaps and provide the essential personal protective equipment (PPE) to doctors in 27 districts across the country. The fund will also enhance local capacity to identify and diagnose Covid-19 cases and manage them through effective prevention and control measures.
Further, the British High Commissioner has said the UK is looking to repurpose its other aid, worth around £100 million, to help protect the most vulnerable people in Pakistan through economic relief or social security packages. Our aid dependency aside, this would greatly augment local efforts — both in the public and private sector — to provide relief.
Of late, the coronavirus is showing an exponential growth in Pakistan. Even as the government urges the public to adopt social distancing while allowing businesses to reopen, one expects that the burden on hospitals will increase in the coming days. The support from the UK and the WHO could be critical in ensuring that the health systems here do not collapse — for if they do, we will have a far bigger tragedy to deal with than in any other countries of the world.
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