Pakistani doctors wear face masks as they leave the Aga Khan hospital where a patient suspected of having contracted coronavirus was admitted, in Karachi, Pakistan, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan) — Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

In the fight against Covid-19, these bright, young Pakistanis are coming together and improvising

Pakistan's youth is coming up with quick and useful strategies, some of which can also be implemented at low costs.

Updated 07 Apr, 2020 02:48pm

Pakistan is currently going through one of the biggest challenge it has encountered since the country's inception and while Covid-19 has led to intense fear and despondency among the public, there are still those who are trying to bring together the country's collective expertise and knowledge to ensure that we fight this fight in the strongest manner possible.

Along with our healthcare workers, our law enforcement agencies, our sanitary workers, and all the other Pakistanis working to provide essential services to the public, the country's youth and its students are also not far behind, with some of them coming up with quick and useful strategies, some of which can also be implemented at low costs.

Bringing together scientists, mobilising efforts

One of these platforms is a group of over 3000+ young scientists from all over Pakistan who have come together on a virtual network called Scientists Against COVID-19 Pakistan (SACP-19).

"There is an astounding number of people who are ready to volunteer and assist with the effort," says Mohammad Ismail, a 25-year-old bio-technologist who started the platform with people like Peshawar-based physiology student Adil Salim, Karachi-based microbiologist Sadia Khalil and Lahore-based research immunologist Maryam Ahmed a week ago. "We want universities and labs in Pakistan to donate their equipment for use to scale up testing. This is something that's already happening in the US," says Ismail. However, he added, there was a "disconnect" between various sectors in Pakistan which makes executing such ideas more challenging here.

At the moment, while there is oodles of energy, lots of fresh ideas, and ambition and passion to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, there appears to be no specific plan in place to put these young minds to use.

Ismail and his friends are getting not more than three to four hours of sleep, and are busy organising this unwieldy group and forming smaller clusters, based on each member's expertise, getting them to connect, brainstorm, and come up with ways to help Pakistan get through these difficult times.

"Our's is a race against time," says Ismail, as he screens the upcoming new names of microbiologists, engineers, data scientists, and even videographers and vloggers, who need to work in tandem and not in silos. "It's overwhelming but we have a great team and we work well," he says enthusiastically over the telephone. He is also liaising with officials from district governments asking how he and the group can be of help to the latter.

Manning the helpline, helping at isolation centres

From L to R: Ali Aahil Noorali, Anam Noor Ehsan, Kaleem Ahmed, Faiza Urooj, and Muhammad Huzaifa Zafar.
From L to R: Ali Aahil Noorali, Anam Noor Ehsan, Kaleem Ahmed, Faiza Urooj, and Muhammad Huzaifa Zafar.

Another group is the Student Taskforce Against Covid-19 (Stac-19) started by final year medical students at the Aga Khan University Hospital. This group has turned into a community of over 500 members and these members comprise not only young doctors but also non-medical students.

"The challenge is managing the rapid growth of our task force," admits one of its founders, Kaleem Ahmed. He adds: "It's novel and interesting to see this implosion in just a week. We are not turning anyone away but are trying to offer tasks in batches so everyone remains engaged while ensuring that no one gets burnt out."

Manning the Covid-19 helpline at the AKUH is one of the things Stac-19 does. "For this, only the students from AKU or its employees who have been trained to respond to callers in a scientific manner are allowed," says Ahmed.

He says the taskforce will also be assisting the AKUH and the Sindh government in "contact tracing". This means "tracking and determining the status of those in contact with a Covid-19 patient and to counsel them about the 14-day period of isolation that needs to be observed", he explains.

The taskforce is also helping the Pakistan Medical Association in identifying volunteers to help out at Karachi's Expo Centre isolation ward.

Collecting protective equipment for medical workers

One very critical group is the Karachi-based First Response Initiative of Pakistan. It comprises of over 400 medical students who have come together through its CombatCorona campaign and they are busy collecting Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers.

"We were able to collect up to 100 PPEs over the weekend and plan on distributing them to Dr Ruth K M Pfau Civil Hospital, the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) and Abbasi Shaheed Hospital," says the organisation's vice president, Rajaa Fatima, who is a final year student at the Dow University of Health Sciences.

"Each PPE kit can cost from between Rs1,000 to Rs 7,000 depending on the kind needed. Our estimate is that we need a minimum of 150 for each of the three hospitals," she says.

But this challenge, too, may get sorted out.

Enabling connections, innovating for ventilators, non-contact thermometers

A volunteer group in Islamabad called Pakistan Against Covid-19 — Volunteers group (Pac-V) is providing a line to those manufacturing the material for as well as the suppliers of PPE kits to provide paraphernalia at nominal rates or free of cost.

Dr Bilal Siddiqui, a 39-year-old mechanical engineer, of the Pac-V, and his team is working on a prototype for a ventilator using 3D printing technology. "We are trying to come up with an ICU grade ventilator," he tells While it may take longer, another 10 days or so, it is what we will need most for critical Covid-19 patients," he says.

Dr Bilal Siddiqui.
Dr Bilal Siddiqui.

In a new development, they are also testing if a hospital ventilator already in use can be hooked to multiple patients like they are doing in the US. The Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre is doing the testing in this regard and "if that works, we will be producing a network of pipes that can be latched to one machine and we will be home-free, for a bit," says the engineer.

But producing ventilators is just one part of the solution. Siddiqui says his team can quickly come up with non-contact thermometers as soon as they get the sensors that have already been ordered from the US and are on their way. "The prototype is ready and we have already fielded them to a few health facilities. Because these thermometers are in short supply, the prices have suddenly jacked up from Rs3,500 to Rs 35,000. We can produce these in bulk and aim to get them at everyone's doorstep in between Rs1,000 to 1,500 a piece."

What started with Siddiqui and his team of five has expanded to 500 people that include not just engineers but individuals "great at crowd sourcing" as well as putting in their funds. "There are three clusters of engineers right now in Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore and we are continuously in touch," he says, adding that it was overwhelming that instead of just a triple helix with interactions between academia (educational institutions), private entities/the industry, and the government (NDMA, Pakistan Engineering Council), other members of the public as well as members of the Pakistani diaspora were backing the group.

"There are some 20 or so farms spread across Pakistan doing 3D printing already and this does not require a lot of space. We can give them our designs, free of cost, and they can start making the ventilators; the hospitals can check the quality control," Siddiqui tells

But where is the money?

"If we can manage to collect Rs 300,000 in just two days, does it look like a problem?" Siddiqui asks quizzically, saying money was the least of his problems. Time is more of a worry, he says. "We just need to get this done urgently as this is time-sensitive," says the sleep-deprived young man.

Technology to detect high risk patients

In Karachi, 40-year old information technology expert Salman Khan has been working in the healthcare sector for two years now. He joined Pac after returning from the UK and offered to help through his app that connects the public to consultants, doctors, pharmacies, laboratories and even delivers prescriptions at your doorstep.

What he offers may sound something futuristic. By using artificial intelligence, he says he can create proof of concept and make algorithms through deep data study. And so using gadgets like smart phones and smart watches, people like him "and there are quite a few such people in Pakistan", can help mitigate and control the spread of the disease here, he claims.

"It's all very simple, but for all this we need to get our hands on big data, lots of it, that needs to calculate through algorithms and we can get a fairly accurate picture in seconds," says Khan, giving an example of how through a smart phone, a smart watch on a wrist, and the way the human pulse behaves, one can detect high risk patients.

"It will mean we can solve the problem of limited screening kits. And the phones using digital forms and chatbots with clickable options can help speed up the process, as we can track where the person has been."

Khan says South Korea managed to stem the spread of Covid-19 using the same technology. Since the outbreak, he says, there is more and more traffic on his website with consultants and people wanting to get registered. "Digital care got a real boost like never before as neither the doctors nor the general public want to get exposed to the virus," he says.

Along with all of these bright young people putting in their fair share, in order to fight Covid-19, Pakistan also needs people who are courageous but who may not necessarily be tech savvy. "I'm not worried about finding this cohort," says Khan foreseeing the need of an "army of such people".

Ismail adds that his group is also training people on bio-safety so that they can then be deputed to areas where, if they are exposed, know how to take care of themselves. "As biologists trained in the lab, we understand the risks associated with this situation and want to work towards making sure that everyone understands what proper PPE protocols are and how to follow them, whether they are screening, testing, or treating patients," he says.


Author Image

Zofeen T. Ebrahim is an independent journalist based in Karachi.

She tweets at @zofeen28.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (32) Closed

T. M. Reddy
Mar 24, 2020 06:02pm
Hats off, guys.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 06:03pm
Recommend 0
Ibrahim S
Mar 24, 2020 06:15pm
These unsung heroes actually get job done. The leaders are for just photo ops and passionate speeches in the comfort of their A/C homes.
Recommend 0
Surya Kant
Mar 24, 2020 06:38pm
I salute to all health care officers and all those involved in fight against Corona.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 06:41pm
Finally some good news. Proud of my young Pakistani brothers and sisters. Everyone can contribute. Some by finding scientific discoveries and solutions, others by donating zakat to the needy and others by just staying home. Pakistan, Pakistanis and Humanity Zindabaad!
Recommend 0
Manoj Thapliyal
Mar 24, 2020 07:10pm
@Ibrahim S, We need more stories of such unsung heroes instead of most of our Politicians who are interested in self and their family members advertisement. Let Covid 19 be Game Changer for subcontinent.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 07:25pm
I know of some Dow Graduates who provide food for the poor.
Recommend 0
Syed Anjum Ali
Mar 24, 2020 07:40pm
I hope these young people will also themselves follow strict social distancing precautions.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 08:00pm
Necessity is the mother of invention! Nice way to channel energies of youth.
Recommend 0
Uttam R
Mar 24, 2020 08:24pm
What about the resources, for these youngsters coming forward to improvise the fight against the deadly virus?
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 08:41pm
Youngs are our future & biggest hope for this country. Move farward & help those who are suffering & needy. Great!
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 09:56pm
Does somene know a way to connect to sacp 19
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 10:03pm
Can someone explain, whenever I post or reply to a post, my post never gets published?
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 10:26pm
Makes me hopeful about pakistan. Shine bright guys! Our prayers are with you.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 10:36pm
I would like to thank the bright and clear minded youngsters of Pakistan The following article may help them in their Ventilator destining effort or to make it better Basic setup to split a single ventilator: Multiple patients attached to a single ventilator. . The patients don’t need to be the same size, but ideally they should have roughly similar severity of lung injury (e.g. similar PEEP and FiO2 requirements)(more on achieving this matching below). . The ventilator is set to pressure-cycled ventilation with a high PEEP (noting that patients with COVID-19 seem to be highly PEEP-responsive) and a low driving pressure (to achieve lung protection). For example, a setting of 30 cm / 18 cm might be reasonable for many patients. The ventilator trigger is locked out, to prevent patients from triggering breaths. . . .
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 10:38pm
Resume: . Patients will likely require deep sedation to render them passive on the ventilator (e.g. propofol plus opioids). Paralysis isn’t necessarily required, but it may be necessary in some cases, depending on how sensitive patients are to sedation. . Ventilation efficacy of each patient can be tracked using an end-tidal CO2 monitor placed in-line with their own endotracheal tube (in a shortage of etCO2 sensors, it might be possible to use a single sensor and rotate it between patients to spot-check the pCO2 of each patient sequentially). . Permissive hypercapnia will need to be anticipated and managed, as discussed above. . Viral filters should be used to prevent cross-contamination of pathogens between different patients.
Recommend 0
Zahid Khan
Mar 24, 2020 10:47pm
There is a high demand of Masks in USA, it will need about One billion mask for next six months. Pakistan should take advantage of this Mask exporting opportunity.
Recommend 0
i m noorani
Mar 24, 2020 10:56pm
Highly appreciated. PM has just announced billions of rupees in tax cuts, subsidies and such things. Will it be asking too much if some millions are spared for each of these groups. Treat it as venture capital, given and forgotten. Their sincerity is guarantee enough for its efficient utilisation, in contrast to ....... you guess it.
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 10:56pm
In USA, kind heart volunteers are making Washable Cloth Masks for the brave front-line Healthcare workers, which they wear on Top of the N95 mask. Pakistan has a Surplus Reserve of Volunteers, please use them.
Recommend 0
Maarij Syed
Mar 24, 2020 10:58pm
Excellent initiatives! When the going gets tough, the tough get going!
Recommend 0
Fact checker
Mar 24, 2020 11:17pm
@Zahid Khan, -- Where did you get this number from? Such numbers should not be disseminated without citing the precise, authoritative and verifiable source.
Recommend 0
Ranjit N
Mar 24, 2020 11:21pm
Very good effort..there is nothing like putting to use your education for your country.BTW there was an article on techcrunch on an open source 3d printer based ventilator That is something all countries will require soon.See the feasibility of building one
Recommend 0
Mar 24, 2020 11:31pm
While the incompetent authorities has pitched our brave soldiers- Healthcare Workers- in the front-line of War against Coronavirus without the PPE, It is incumbent upon them to protect themselves as much as they can by helping themselves - They should wear the Long Plastic Trash Bags by making three holes in them. - Cover their hairs with the Polythene Bag - Wear Safety Glasses or any kind of glasses, something is better than nothing. - Wear disposable medical rubber or plastic gloves - Wipe the front side of their Trash Bag, while wearing it with a Soap Water or Sanitizer after every half an hour. - Dispose them off securely after each Shift . . Our Volunteers may want to make them some "Jugaroo Coats" by Adding Plastic Sleeves on Trash Bags until the regular supplies arrived from abroad. (What a shame) It may sound selfish. but if they are not Safe, then we are not Safe either. Healthcare and Law Enforcement Personals, We Love You All Please Stay Safe
Recommend 0
Shoukat sheikh
Mar 25, 2020 01:47am
I wonder if these young scientist can come up with cure.
Recommend 0
Aam Aadmi
Mar 25, 2020 02:54am
@Babar, same here. I see 50% of the names are constant in every post. So looks like it is an elite club membership where general gentry is not welcome. But don’t give up as I am not either.
Recommend 0
Mar 25, 2020 03:11am
Let us know how others can help.
Recommend 0
Mar 25, 2020 04:08am
FDA now allows treatment of life-threatening COVID-19 cases using blood from patients who have recovered Please read The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has updated its rules around use of experimental treatments for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to include use of "convalescent plasma," in cases where the patient's life is seriously or immediately threatened. This isn't an approval of the procedure as a certified treatment, but rather an emergency clearance that applies only on a case-by-case basis, and only in extreme cases, as a means of helping further research being done into the possible efficacy of plasma collected from patients who have already contracted, and subsequently recovered from, a case of COVID-19. Plasma is a component of human blood -- specifically the liquid part -- which contains, among other things, antibodies that contribute to a body's immune response. .....
Recommend 0
Asad Khan
Mar 25, 2020 05:40am This shows how to use one ventilator for multiple patients
Recommend 0
On Track
Mar 25, 2020 06:48am
We do not need scientists to make face masks. They have more serious things to do.
Recommend 0
Pakistani in New Zealand
Mar 25, 2020 08:07am
@Surya Kant, Yes fine but we still dont like Indian government because of its policies towards the minorities.
Recommend 0
Mar 25, 2020 09:15am
@Asad Khan Thank you for sharing.
Recommend 0
Zahid Khan
Mar 25, 2020 10:05am
For Your Information (FYI) We have to create awareness about it Loss of Smell, Taste, might signal pandemic Virus Infection NEW YORK (AP) — A loss of smell or taste might be an early sign of infection with the pandemic virus, say medical experts who cite reports from several countries. It might even serve as a useful screening tool, they say. The idea of a virus infection reducing sense of smell is not new. Respiratory viral infection is a common cause of loss of smell, because inflammation can interfere with airflow and the ability to detect odors. The sense of smell usually returns when the infection resolves, but in a small percentage of cases, smell loss can persist after other symptoms disappear. In some cases, it is ..... In South Korea, some 30% of people who tested positive for the virus have cited loss of smell as their major complaint . .
Recommend 0