US-Pakistani doctors raise concerns over virus surge in their homeland

Updated 16 Jun 2020

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Some suggested an immediate lockdown for at least two to three weeks followed by a gradual reopening. — AFP/File
Some suggested an immediate lockdown for at least two to three weeks followed by a gradual reopening. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Awareness, food security, social-distancing and face masks are four immediate steps needed to curb the spread of new coronavirus in Pakistan, said a group of US-based Pakistani physicians and scientists.

Alarmed by an official warning on Monday that Covid-19 infections in Pakistan could reach up to 1.2 million by the end of July, they urged Pakistani citizens to strictly comply with safety guidelines to reverse the rising trajectory of new cases.

Some suggested an immediate lockdown for at least two to three weeks followed by a gradual reopening while others said such a lockdown would be ideal but difficult to implement.

Dr Khalid Abdullah, who works for a Nobel-winning advocacy group called Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), argued it would be almost impossible to “achieve a complete lockdown” in Pakistan.

“We, in South Asia, have three major handicaps – population density, poverty and unawareness and we must tailor our plans accordingly,” he said. “In a place where 10 to 15 people live in a small house, lockdown will not work.”

Noting that a large portion of Pakistan’s work force consists of daily-wage earners, Dr Abdullah warned that a complete lockdown could “force millions to starve”.

The next best option, according to him, is promoting social responsibility, which includes hand-washing, wearing face masks and maintaining a safe distance.

“And the media also needs to play its role in creating social responsibility,” said Dr Abdullah. “Please, please stop showing totkay and fake cures on TV. Bring medical experts to talk about these issues, not celebrities and politicians.”

Dr Abdullah urged the government to establish “a supply chain” to provide food, as “no matter what we do, this crisis will increase poverty and hunger.”

And this is where the governments “need to show fiscal responsibility. The current budget allocations for health and food safety will not work. We need to do more.”

“The situation in Pakistan is spiralling out of control,” warned Dr Tariq Shahab, a Pakistani physician in Virginia who does a daily talk-show on social media to increase awareness. “Hospitals are running out of beds. We are getting desperate calls from all over the country, seeking help.”

Some of the callers, he said, wanted medicines like Actemra or Remdesivir, which are only given after government approval, and some sought plasma donors.

Dr Shahab blamed the easing of restrictions around Eid for a sudden rise in infections.

Published in Dawn, June 16th, 2020