The “Great Pandemic” at the footsteps of Pakistan!


As the month of Ramadan has started, it is bringing new challenges for Pakistan to cope with the COVID-19 spread! The first case of the Covid-19 was detected in Pakistan (Karachi) on February 26. Since then, it is almost two months that the frontline health care professionals and the International agencies have repeatedly warned Pakistan to get prepared itself against the imminent oncoming onslaught of the Coronavirus. During all this time, the government under Prime Minister Imran Khan did not feel any emergency for mobilizing it’s resources in securing the desperately needed medical supplies, PPE, test kits, diagnosing equipment, ventilators, medical masks, etc. for containing the Coronavirus outbreak. Contrary to the effective planning, there have been many talks and meetings at all levels of the administration. As a matter of fact, just a couple of days ago, the PM again used his rhetoric of the daily wage earners as the excuse for not taking the action for the FULL LOCKDOWN as has been appealed many times by the doctors and other frontline health workers to avoid risking thousands of precious lives.
Being an intelligent and passionate person, the PM should learn from the mistakes of the other leaders who shrugged off the pandemic COVID-19 when it was approaching to their doorsteps by using political rhetoric (seasonal flu, colder weather, we are different country than china and others, we are located in different part of the world, etc.) and as a result, many thousands of their citizens have died. The actions and the continued struggle show that the countries that acted and prepared themselves to cope with the Coronavirus are better off than the ones that did not take it seriously! The best example is still the city of Wuhan in China where the COVID-19 is believed to be originated from and by shutting it down completely, China literally stopped the further spread of the virus. Today, Wuhan is declared free of the Covid-19 and the life is coming back to its normal. Same is true for South Korea that experienced one of the worst outbreaks unexpectedly as a result of the congregation of the church goers. But by FULL LOCKDOWN and testing, tracing, tracking, isolating and quarantine programs put in place, South Korea was not only able to contain the virus but was able to come out of it in a very short period of time.
As for as the rhetoric about the daily wage earners is concerned, every country in the world has some segment of its population in the same category, including Wuhan. Since the PM always talk about how China has uplifted millions (according to the World Bank 850 million) of its people from extreme poverty, he should also learn how Chinese leadership fed its lockdown poor citizens without going them through the starvation. Just the city of Wuhan, the epic center and the believed origin of the Covid-19 that had over 11 million population.
There, the leadership immediately, after the lockdown of the city, started supplying groceries, prepared foods, water and other essential items to the residents. Under the “Ehsaas” and other “noble” programs, instead of giving out money to the poor and daily wage earners (under the FULL LOCKDOWN), the government should be supplying prepared foods to the needy by converting the marriage halls, civic centers, stadiums and other venues into the kitchens and using the skilled restaurant “bawarchies” to prepare large scale dishes. The created “Tiger Force” could be a good choice for delivering the meals to the needy people at their houses. This way not only government will be helping in creating few jobs but also eliminating crowding (maintaining social distance) and making the full lockdown a great success, one of the major requisites for controlling the Coronavirus spread.
During the past TWO months period, even though there has been some improvements made in the supply of the PPE, medical supplies, masks, ventilators and diagnostic devices, but Pakistan is still too far away from improving its capacity to cope virus’ onslaught. Some major cities have announced the lockdowns, but the local markets are full of activities ignoring all the issued protocols. Obviously, this is happenings because of the conflicting information between the Federal and the Provincial levels that is blasting off by the innumerable TV channels 24/7. This bickering shows lack of the political will by the PM and his fears for use of his political capital that his fragile government can’t afford.
To date, Pakistan has an extremely limited capacity for controlling any kind of infectious disease outbreaks! For COVID-19, there were just 35 hospital nationwide that can handle the virus infected patients. All these hospitals are staggered unequally through all the provinces regardless of the population. For example, Punjab had just 6 hospitals, Sind had only 4 capable hospitals while Balochistan had 10 hospitals (lesser populated than Punjab and Sind)!
As of April 25, Pakistan has an extremely limited no of test kits that can be used to diagnose the Covid-19 patients. As of late March, there were only 25,000 kits nationwide for a population of about 220 million people. According 2018-19 Economic Survey, there were only 1,279 public hospitals, 5, 527 basic health centers, 686 health centers in the rural areas, 220,829 registered doctors and 108,474 registered nurses. According to Dr. Mirza, an advisor to the PM, as of April 27, a total of 144,365 tests were conducted. He anticipates much higher testing rate as more test kits becomes available along with the other medical supplies soon.
In other words, Pakistan is still not ready to cope with the imminent onslaught of the Covid-19 as has been pointed out by many health professionals, international agencies and this author! This is an incredibly sad situation and is still consistent with the observations and comments made by the Chief Justices a few weeks ago!