Stark warning

Published April 24, 2020

THERE is palpable alarm among Pakistan’s medical community, a sense of foreboding that the country could be on the cusp of an unmanageable crisis.

Three times this week, they have urgently asked the government to reconsider its decision to ease lockdown measures.

On Wednesday, eminent health experts and representatives of major physicians and surgeons’ associations addressed a press conference in Karachi, warning that any laxity in enforcing social distancing now “would prove disastrous” for the country.

The day before, around a dozen doctors had written to the government asking it to withdraw its permission for congregational prayers during Ramazan.

Yesterday, the Punjab chapter of the Pakistan Medical Association made the same request.

On April 22, Pakistan passed the grim milestone of 10,000 Covid-19 cases; the day ended with a total of 10,513 cases, including 224 deaths.

One of the doctors at the press conference revealed that as per projections, turning a blind eye to people congregating, whether inside mosques or at markets, could result in 70,000 coronavirus patients by May 15.

Medical professionals are putting their lives on the line each day they come into contact with those infected by the virus, from the initial testing stage and throughout treatment.

A single breach in protocol — perhaps an N95 mask reused once too often or an accidental mistake in wearing or removing personal protective equipment — can expose them to the contagion and its consequences.

In Spain, healthcare workers comprise 14pc of Covid-19 patients, largely on account of insufficient PPEs for medical staff.

In Pakistan, over 160 healthcare providers in Sindh alone have so far tested positive.

Sadly, those armed with expertise are not only up against bull-headed ignorance, which is bad enough, but also deliberate disinformation.

The crass allegation by the Punjab chief minister’s former spokesman, that the presser in Karachi was held at the PPP’s behest, is precisely the kind of cynical ‘pandemic politicking’ that deflects from the stark warnings by medical personnel.

Pakistan’s underfunded health sector is barely able to cope with the regular caseload, let alone an exceptional emergency like the present.

If we do not ‘flatten the curve’ by enforcing a strict lockdown — the only way proven to be effective — the amplified pressure on this creaky edifice could be its undoing.

In what may be a sign of things to come, the doctors at the presser said that hospitals in Karachi were running out of beds to cater to Covid-19 patients.

Also consider that around 10pc of those infected need respiratory support, but public hospitals in Punjab alone have only 1,245 ventilators — and 77 of them are out of order.

With the caseload rising exponentially in the past few weeks, health personnel could be faced with wrenching decisions about which Covid-19 patients to treat with the limited resources available.

We are on a knife edge. Listen to the experts.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2020

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