ISLAMABAD: On a day when around 3,000 more suspected patients were tested for the deadly coronavirus across the country, news footage and photographs of President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi wearing an N-95 mask at a meeting sparked serious criticism in the health circles as recently doctors demanding the protective gear in Quetta had been thrashed by the police.
The federal government earned the ire of health professionals, also because the ‘misuse’ of the mask they said was against its announced policy and repeated directives. The government has been convincing the people that only the health professionals deputed in quarantine centres and isolation wards should wear N-95 masks, while it was not advisable even for other doctors to wear them.
In the situation, President Alvi wearing the N-95 mask chaired a briefing session by the Punjab government regarding ‘Covid-19: Prevention, Mitigation and Control’ at Darbar Hall of the Civil Secretariat in Lahore. He also addressed the participants on the occasion.
Interestingly, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza had earlier alleged that doctors were misusing the personal protective equipment (PPE). He had told the media that a guideline had been made according to which only the health professionals working in isolation wards were advised to wear the N-95 masks. He had insisted that even patients in isolation wards and sanitary workers in hospitals should not wear N-95 masks.
Health workers slam double standards of govt
“N-95 masks are only for health professionals working in isolation wards and even doctors working in other departments of hospitals cannot wear them,” he had said, adding that Pakistan would never have a sufficient stock if the misuse of PPE was not stopped.
Amid widespread criticism of President Alvi for wearing N-95 mask, the Pakistan Medical Association issued a statement without naming him that politicians and bureaucrats should not wear N-95 masks.
It stated: “The PMA has observed that protective items required for the healthcare providers working for coronavirus or non-coronavirus patients are being misused. Particularly the misuse of N-95 masks has been observed by a large number of PMA members and general public.
“These days politicians and bureaucrats are often seen wearing N-95 mask during their meetings and visits, whereas health professionals are facing dire shortage of N-95 mask and PPEs.
“This is important to note that N-95 mask is not necessary for everybody. This is only needed in the quarantine and isolation facilities for the health providers treating coronavirus patients, who are at the highest risk of acquiring coronavirus. Doctors should be protected as they are frontline soldiers against coronavirus.”
PMA Secretary General Dr Qaisar Sajjad said there were different types of masks available for healthcare providers and general public.
“General public can use handmade washable masks, which should be washed every day. Surgical mask is for healthcare workers who are treating non-corona patients at primary care level and during surgeries. Media should play their due role for these types of awareness positively,” he added.
N-95 masks are specially designed for protection of health professionals from the deadly virus.
Letter to PM
Meanwhile, Pakistan Young Pharmacist Association has strongly condemned the beating of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics, who were protesting against unavailability of PPE in Quetta.
In a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the association appealed to him to probe why the PPE were short in supply. It stated: “In our letter written on 27th February 2020, we have already requested that our cops (police, FIA, IB, ASF, ANF etc), hospital staff (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, para medical staff etc) and teachers (school teachers, college professors, university professors etc) are not having face masks and protections against coronavirus.
“There is acute shortage of face masks and protections in Pakistan, whereby more than 20 million face masks and protections were smuggled out of Pakistan,” the letter added.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020