PESHAWAR: As Khyber Pakhtunkhwa recorded 10 more deaths by novel coronavirus, the Lady Reading Hospital pioneered the antigen detection rapid test (Ag-RDT) in the province on Friday.
A total of 10 suspected coronavirus patients underwent the free testing, which produced results within 30 minutes, and two of them were Afghan nationals.
Spokesman for LRH Mohammad Asim told Dawn that the hospital offered free Covid-19 diagnosis and treatment to Afghans like local residents.
He said two Afghan nationals were currently admitted to the hospital.
Mr Asim said the Ag-RDT promised speedy testing of suspected patients for coronavirus enabling the hospital to admit the confirmed ones and send the others home.
Meanwhile, the health officials insisted that five per cent of coronavirus patients in KP hospitals were Afghan nationals, who availed themselves of free diagnosis and treatment.
They told Dawn that there was no separate data of the Afghans tested or treated for Covid-19 in hospitals.
Two Afghans among 10 who undergo free testing
The officials, however, said an estimated five per cent of patients came from Afghanistan as health facilities were scarce there.
They said two years ago, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had banned the treatment of Afghan patients in local hospitals saying it didn’t receive any separate budget for the purpose.
The officials said following the directives, the hospitals had introduced a new strategy under which national identity cards were sought from patients to ensure that the Afghans don’t get services.
They said the provincial government hadn’t received any financial assistance from international donors, especially UNHCR, for healthcare of Afghan refugees for around a decade due to which they was banned from the treatment two years ago.
An official, however, said since the onset of Covid-19, the hospitals had been receiving the Afghan patients and no questions were asked from them knowing that the war-ravaged Afghanistan lacked health services.
He said 125,000 tests had so far been conducted with 44,000 turning out to be positive for the virus.
The official also said 1,600 deaths from coronavirus showed the country has testing facilities on a small scale.
He said 3,000 health workers had so far been infected with the virus and 65 had lost life to it.
Ahmad Shah, a 60-year-old Afghan national from Jalalabad, who was admitted to a Peshawar teaching hospital, said not only facilities were scant in Afghanistan but there was also a huge stigma attached with the virus due to which the people didn’t go for diagnosis.
He said the confirmed cases were deserted by relatives and friends.
The patient said he was getting free services and wouldn’t return to native village immediately.
“Most people know about my disease in my village. They would look down upon me. The locals are afraid of Covid-19 patients and therefore, many die in their homes instead of getting tested and treated,” he said.
Meanwhile, the officials said KP had reported 1,399 deaths from Covid-19 and around 70 of them were Afghans.
They said most of Afghan nationals dying of Covid-19 were buried in Peshawar.
The officials said the private hospitals had also been receiving Afghan nationals for coronavirus testing and on confirmation, they were admitted or advised segregation.
They said last year, the government relaxed rules for Afghan nationals to enter Pakistan for medical treatment.
The officials said for the last few decades, the Afghans banked on Pakistani hospitals for their treatment.
They said many of the Peshawar-based private hospitals thrived on Afghans, who found it easier and cheaper to come to Pakistan for treatment compared to other countries.
Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2020