Front-line warriors

March 29, 2020


THEY are our first line of defence in the battle against the pandemic; it should not end up becoming their last stand. In a situation aptly described in the language of war, medical personnel are under increasing pressure as Covid-19 cases in Pakistan begin to rise.

One need only look at the near-apocalyptic scenes in the US and several European countries to see what could lie in store: hospitals have been strained to breaking point, and in Spain, nearly 14pc of the total number of coronavirus cases are healthcare workers.

In Pakistan, ill-equipped doctors and nurses dealing with a frightened yet largely misinformed public are doubly at peril. The first Covid-19 fatality among the local medical community — and sadly, there are almost certain to be more — occurred some days ago when a young doctor, Usama Riaz, succumbed to the disease.

He had been working at a screening centre in Gilgit-Baltistan when he was taken ill and rushed to hospital where he breathed his last. It was reported yesterday that at least four doctors and related staff have so far tested positive at two leading Karachi hospitals. They are among several healthcare workers who have already been stricken with Covid-19 in various parts of the country.

Medical personnel are faced with several challenges in the present situation. For one, they have to deal with a rapidly increasing workload that has seen far better health systems in the West come close to collapse — and we are only at the beginning of a long, gruelling ordeal. Then there is the global shortage of personal protection equipment, vital for medical staff dealing directly with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients.

Even though large quantities of PPE and N-95 masks have been recently donated by China and other sources, a steady supply is crucial because they need to be replaced fairly quickly. Ensuring timely delivery also requires proper planning and coordination. Meanwhile, healthcare workers have to make do with whatever protective gear they have available.

The public must also exhibit a far more responsible attitude in their interaction with medical personnel at a time when carelessness or deceit can cost lives. There are accounts of suspected Covid-19 patients deliberately concealing facts such as their travel history, an important consideration to determine the course of action to be taken.

Such an incident, reported in this paper yesterday, took place recently in Multan’s Nishtar Hospital and led to a number of on-duty doctors, nurses and paramedics being placed in quarantine after the patient — who subsequently died — tested positive for the disease. This, of course, also illustrates that health protocols must be quickly amended to deal with the situation, not a simple task in the midst of a pandemic. Meanwhile, even as we salute the courage of our front-line warriors, the best we can do for them is to follow the infection prevention guidelines and stay healthy.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020