• No products in the cart.

The Express Tribune Editorial 6 May 2020

Divided we fight Covid-19

Instead of putting up a joint fight against the coronavirus, our political leadership is fighting against each other. While the PPP that rules Sindh province insists on a strict, curfew-like lockdown to contain the spread of the virus and is trying to go about it as well, the PTI that leads the Centre as well as the provinces of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is more concerned about the sinking economy of the country and a large number of daily wage earners and labourers who have lost their jobs due to strict restrictions on movement. Thus the PTI, and more specifically Prime Minister Imran Khan, advocates a soft or a smart lockdown, which primarily means resumption of business activities across the country under certain SOPs. The two sides are more interested in scoring political points rather than seriously listening to each other and accommodating each other’s viewpoint to finally come up with a uniform national strategy to deal with the mushrooming virus.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan has thus had to intervene. The top court has taken notice of the lack of cooperation between the federal government and the provinces, and observed that “matters cannot be run by ego and stubbornness”. The court has raised questions on the handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country, like: Under what law can Sindh keep businesses closed and block the Centre’s sources of revenue — and that too without prior concurrence of the president or the federal government? Why have the shops remained shuttered even though the government has allowed prayer congregations to resume in mosques? The two sides also differed, though not mentioned by the Supreme Court, on allowing congregational prayers in mosques. While the PPP-run Sindh province maintains a ban on congregational prayers, including Taraweeh, the same can be held in Punjab and K-P which are run by the PTI.
All this only points towards the inability of the leadership to frame a uniform national policy to contain the thriving virus — whether because of their ineligibility or the political acrimony between the federation and one of its federating units. Just one more week for the leadership to bury the hatchet, otherwise the apex court will come up with an interim order.


Funding a vaccine

A global effort to research, manufacture, and distribute treatment and a hypothetical future vaccine for the coronavirus crossed $8 billion in pledged funds in a matter of hours. The effort was led by the EU, the UK, Norway and Saudi Arabia. Leaders from Japan, Canada, South Africa and dozens of other countries also participated in the virtual summit. China was represented by its ambassador to the EU. The US — the wealthiest nation in the world and the worst hit by the virus — refused to participate or pledge any money. A news report did quote unnamed officials claiming the US is at the forefront of fundraising efforts, but it appears this official was taking a cue from the occupant of the White House because this is an easily-disproven barefaced lie.
Norwegian PM Erna Solberg regretted Trump’s decision to cut funding for the WHO and stay away from the conference, saying, “When you are in a crisis, you manage it and you do it jointly with others.” French President Emmanuel Macron was hopeful the US would eventually come on board. But we must disagree with Solberg and Macron. Given how terrible his management of the virus in the US has been, perhaps it is better that Trump and his administration have no role whatsoever in deciding how to respond. Apart from recognisable billionaires philanthropists such as Bill Gates, the names of a few other individual donors did catch the eye. Renowned singer Madonna, for example, donated $1 million. Yes, even a “Material Girl” is more generous than the US government.
Meanwhile, the leaders that do care about the world all focused on making sure a hypothetical vaccine must be available to everyone, and further fundraising for crisis response. This is because the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board estimates that most of the $8 billion would be needed immediately. However, British PM Boris Johnson, a Covid-19 survivor, is already scheduled to host another online donor summit next month.


Nationalisation of hospitals?

The Sindh chapter of the Young Doctors Association has demanded of the federal and provincial governments to nationalise private hospitals during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, claiming that private hospitals were focusing more on making money than on treating patients. Undoubtedly, the demand is driven by humanitarian concerns. The idea appears to be noble, but before deciding to nationalise private hospitals all aspects of the issue should be kept in view. First and foremost is the deplorable state of government hospitals in the country. Conditions at public hospitals are common knowledge so one does need to discuss it much. While unsubstantiated charges of money-making are often brought against private hospitals, it is also acknowledged that private initiatives in the healthcare sector is filling the huge gap left by government medical facilities.
So taking a decision on the spur of the moment and nationalise private healthcare facilities in a huff would only derail the entire existing system without providing a suitable alternative. Healthcare is a vital public issue so effecting changes in it involves careful planning and taking meticulous details into account. If nationalisation is done in a hurry, it will do more harm than good. We have had the experience of a misguided privatisation of industries and education in the 1970s. The exercise was mainly driven by populist politics and the disastrous consequences are well known.
Those advocating the case for nationalisation of hospitals have mentioned Spain and Italy where the government has taken control of private hospitals in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. PPP leader Nafisa Shah has also supported the demand citing the case of Spain and Italy. Obviously, the demand is based on erroneous assumptions. It is wholly unrealistic to compare Pakistan with these developed countries. Healthcare services, like much else, in Pakistan cannot be compared with those in the advanced nations. It is like trying to disguise cat as giraffe.
Template Design © The CSS Point. All rights reserved.