ISLAMABAD: While the death toll from novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has surged to 3,115 with over 90,000 cases in 73 countries, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) country head believes Pakistan’s efforts to deal with the challenge are much better than a number of other countries.
Speaking to the media at the organisation’s head office in Islamabad, WHO country head Dr Palitha Mahipala said that Pakistan not only got the facility to diagnose COVID-19 but also introduced it at five different places across the country within two weeks unlike many other parts of the world.
“There were only three labs having the capability to test virus in the US, Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Pakistan within two weeks got the capability and now free of cost tests are being provided at five different areas of the country. However, many other countries don’t have the capability to test for the virus due to which they send samples to other countries,” he reiterated.
Dr Mahipala said though cases had been reported from as many as 73 countries, majority of the countries had just a few cases, while a major chunk was reported in China, followed by a couple of other countries.
“A sudden upsurge has been observed in some countries like South Korea, Italy and Iran, as human-to-human transfer of virus has started. Majority of patients recover from disease without any major intervention. Around 19 per cent of the patients face critical condition and the fatality is between 2 to 4 percent. China has dealt with the issue very well and that is why cases have started dropping in China,” he said.
The WHO country head was of the opinion that the blame game that some countries had hidden reported cases should be stopped, as under ‘International Health Regulations 2005’ all member countries were bound to declare cases at the earliest after confirmation.
He also advised people to avoid unnecessary travel to countries where cases were on the rise.
Asked about the five cases reported in Pakistan, the WHO country head said it was a positive sign, because it showed that Pakistan had a very strong surveillance system due to which the cases were picked without any delay.
“WHO have been supporting the efforts against the virus and has provided personal protective equipment (PPE) including tyvek gowns, masks, gloves, etc, to hospitals across the country.
Moreover, he appreciated PM’s special assistant on health Dr Zafar Mirza for ensuring that every person is screened at 19 points of entry across the country; reservation of 600 beds in isolation wards and establishment of five quarantine facilities across the country.
He requested the media to spread awareness and play a positive role in the situation so that no one would get panic.
About the precautionary measures, the WHO country head said: “Hand hygiene is the best protective step against the disease. People should avoid unnecessary travel. If you don’t have reason to go, don’t go. Suggest people, who have related travel history and having pneumonia like symptoms, should immediately contact health experts. Every person does not need to wear mask but those having flu and cough must wear masks to protect others from it,” he said.
In reply to a question, he said efforts were being made to invent vaccine against COVID-19 and WHO was working with many organizations in this regard.
Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2020