Health experts urge massive testing for virus in Pakistan

Published May 8, 2020
Pakistan has so far conducted 244,778 tests, out of which 12,196 were done on May 6.  — AP/File
Pakistan has so far conducted 244,778 tests, out of which 12,196 were done on May 6. — AP/File

ISLAMABAD: While the government on Thursday decided to lift the lockdown in phases, health experts believe that the time has come to start testing at the community level to isolate areas which have become the hotspot of coronavirus.

Executive Director of the National Institute of Health Maj Gen Prof Dr Aamer Ikram said the testing capacity had been improved and now 30,000 tests could be conducted daily.

According to the National Command and Operations Centre, Pakistan has so far conducted 244,778 tests, out of which 12,196 were done on May 6.

In the United States, which is the most affected country, over eight million tests have been conducted which are equal to 24,188 per million population, and 1.9m tests in Spain, which are equal to 41,332 tests per million.

About 2.3m tests (38,221 per million) have been conducted in Italy, 1.4m tests (21,330 per million) in the United Kingdom, 1.2m tests (14,640 per million) in Turkey and 1.3m tests (984 per million) in India. Pakistan is a little ahead of India with 1,108 tests per million.

Talking to Dawn, Dr Javed Akram, Vice Chancellor of University of Health Sciences, said the responsibility of people had increased to take precautionary measures after the government’s decision to relax the lockdown.

He said the government should ensure that the number of tests increased. Institutions, organisations and heads of families should make sure that all their employee and family members are tested for the virus. Masks should be provided to every person and it should also be ensured that just a few persons enter a shop or store so that social distancing could be maintained, he said.

Dr Akram suggested that the government should allow antibodies tests so that people could know if they have become immune or not.

When asked about the tests of antibodies, he said over 80 per cent patients were asymptomatic so they were infected and recovered without having any symptoms.

“It is a simple test, just like sugar level test in blood, so people can do it at cheaper rates. If once it is diagnosed that a person has recovered, he/she will not have to take precautionary measures,” he said.

Chairman of the Young Consultants Association of Pakistan Dr Asfandyar Khan told Dawn that tests should be held at the community level to identify the coronavirus hotspots, otherwise cases would increase manifold.

“I still suggest that the outpatient departments of hospitals should be closed. Unfortunately, the government believed that the youths are immune to the disease and aged people can die. Because of this thinking, hospitals will be flooded with patients,” he said.

“We have also suggested that antibodies tests should be allowed in public sector hospitals. Currently, we hold antibodies test before starting a surgery,” said Dr Javed Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon at PIMS.

He said that unfortunately the health authorities were not ready to allow antibodies tests at the government level due to the possibility of false positive or false negative results, but the same error was also possible in PCR tests.

“Moreover, the hospital administrations have notified that if a patient is suspected for Covid-19, he/she would be isolated in the same ward. This can become a reason of the spread of virus,” he said.

When contacted, Dr Ikram said: “The decision to relax restrictions has been made after a number of deliberations as economic activities were at a standstill. However, business centres will have to follow standard operating procedures,” he said.

“We may observe a surge in number of cases as interaction of people will increase and hidden cases will also be reported at hospitals,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2020

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