Can Coronavirus break Pakistan’s ‘fragile’ healthcare system?

WHO declared novel coronavirus a pandemic on 11th of March 2020 with the virus now affecting up to 195 countries in the world. Pakistan has found itself in a particularly vulnerable situation sharing borders with two hotspots; China and Iran..

By Dr Madiha Ata

Recap: Quick initial action by the authorities

The government and health officials promptly responded by drafting a national action plan as early as February, well before the detection of the first positive case in the country.

Attempts to close the country’s borders with the epidemic neighbours were also made quite early however the effectiveness may be questionable. The Government of Pakistan remained firm on its stance to deny extradition of the citizens stuck in China, then epicentre of the disease.

WHO representative in Pakistan Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala, has appreciated the steps taken to prevent the spread of infection in the country. It is evident by the response of the authorities that huge emphasis is being laid on disease prevention because once the number of patients increases the situation might spiral out of control.

A crippled health system facing unprecedented challenges

It is no secret that the healthcare infrastructure of the country is extremely fragile. Presently only 14 government labs are equipped to perform diagnostic test for the coronavirus although several collection points have been nominated.

Countries like Italy and China have experienced lack of resources at the peak of the crisis so for a third world country like Pakistan the shortage is imminent.

At maximum working capacity the government sector provides less than 900 ventilators to the entire province of Punjab.

This is an insight into one of the essential requirements of corona management in one of the better equipped provinces of the country.

The Government has designated several hospitals for isolation and management of suspected and confirmed cases, but the number of beds and staff seem inadequate. Another major concern remains the availability of the diagnostic and treatment facilities only in the developed parts of the country.

Patients will continue to transmit the disease on their way to the hospitals and might deteriorate further in the transit.

Help yourself and others by staying at home- Please!

The decision of imposing a lock-down by individual provincial governments may come across as an exaggerated response to the general population and the federal government.

In reality it is a desperate attempt to prevent the situation from reaching the threshold beyond which Pakistan is not equipped to handle the outbreak.

March 28, 2020

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