Medical personnel need support not govt harrassment

All over the world, people and governments are supporting the front line workers in this pandemic: the healthcare workers. In Pakistan, however, our doctors and medical personnel continue to face harassment.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has urged the Punjab government to “heed the legitimate demands of the young doctors on strike in Punjab. The country’s need for medical personnel in the midst of a public health crisis does not override their right to occupational health and safety. Nor does it justify the high-handedness of the police who attempted to quell the strike by force. Several grievances put forward by representatives of the Grand Health Alliance are cause for serious concern. They have claimed that public hospitals have sorely inadequate Coronavirus screening facilities for medical personnel, and that the health ministry disburses personal protective equipment (PPE) only to those doctors and nurses who work in the Coronavirus isolation wards. However, all medical personnel remain vulnerable so long as they are working in any part of any hospital. The striking doctors have also complained that the wards used to house infected colleagues are abysmal, reflecting even more poorly on the conditions in patient wards. It is also worrying to hear doctors say that they fear their jobs may be terminated allegedly at the behest of the health ministry if they speak to the media about their concerns. All these concerns must be addressed promptly and fairly if the long fight against this pandemic is to be successful.”

Medical Professionals Needs Support and Equipment, not Arrests & Police Beatings

Support for public health professionals and doctors, provision of PPE (protective personal equipment) along with medications and ventilators are the need of the hour worldwide. In Pakistan, however, it appears that not only is the government not providing enough PPE to our doctors but when they protest, they are beaten up and arrested.

In other countries, people are taking to the streets to applaud their health workers, doctors in Quetta “where almost 25 medical officials have already tested positive – were beaten by the police, for daring to protest over the lack of PPE.”

As a BBC investigative story shows: “PPE shortages have been in the headlines ever since the coronavirus pandemic struck early last month, mainly because it was an unprecedented situation and the magnitude of demand could not have been foreseen. It was supposed to be just a picture of Pakistan’s president taking precautions during an official meeting. But instead the image of President Dr Arif Alvi wearing the high-end N-95 medical mask – tweeted out on social media – has further inflamed tensions between Pakistan’s government and those on the front line of the fight against coronavirus. The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) noted that while “politicians and bureaucrats are often seen wearing N-95 masks during meetings and visits… health professionals are facing a dire shortage of (these masks) and PPE (personal protective equipment)”.”

Further, “For the 200,000 or so practising doctors in Pakistan, the outbreak came just six months after they were stunned by a controversial government decision to close the country’s top health professionals’ regulatory body, the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC). That decision left 15,000 fresh medical graduates without certification, while around 30,000 doctors still await their routine five-year registration renewal which is necessary for them to continue to practise medicine in Pakistan and abroad, a source in the PMDC said.”

According to a Guardian story “In one of the largest hospitals designated to deal with coronavirus, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, the capital, there are only 50 or so functioning ventilators. And two-thirds of Pakistan’s population live in rural communities with no access to hospitals equipped to deal with coronavirus patients, or sometimes to any medical facilities at all.”

Instead of accepting the reality, “Dr Zafar Mirza, special assistant on health to the prime minister, Imran Khan, said the issue was not an equipment shortage, but “irrational use of PPEs”. “The federal government has supplied at least three times the requested quantities, but due to irrational use and leakages they did not reach the right people,” he said.”

Is Pakistan hiding its Coronavirus Problem?

The world is facing a global pandemic and the reactions of all democratic governments is to tell the truth to their people and try to mitigate the impact of this disaster. Pakistan, however, appears to be following the paths of allies like China and Egypt by denying or hiding facts. After weeks of refusing to admit that Pakistanis may be affected by the virus and refusing to shut down borders (especially with China) the government’s policy right now appears to be simply managing the ‘narrative’ not the reality.

On Friday, March 13, Prime Minister Imran Khan chaired a meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC) that was attended by the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director General Lt-Gen Faiz Hameed provincial chief ministers, top advisors and cabinet members. “While there is a need for caution, there is no need for panic,” Khan advised the public. While urging the people to follow basic hygiene and precautionary measures, he assured them that the health of the people is the government’s foremost priority. He also tweeted that he would address the nation soon and that he is “personally overseeing measures to deal with Covid-19”.

Further, “It was decided to close borders with Iran and Afghanistan, allow only three airports – Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore – to operate international flights in limited numbers while other airports will see domestic flights, and ban public gatherings. The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has been tasked to coordinate with provincial governments and lead the fight against novel coronavirus. It was also decided to close all educational institutions until April 5.”

Despite what the federal government says, Pakistan took a very long time to seal its borders and has only tested 500 people to date. As of March 14 only 251 people had been tested in Sindh, 110 in Punjab, 30 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 18 in Balochistan, nine in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and 32 in G-B. The largest number of cases are in Sindh, with only 1 reported as of now in Punjab.

It is impossible that while Sindh has cases there are none in Punjab, what is more likely the government is hiding the facts.

As Salman Masood, New York Times correspondent in Pakistan, stated on social media:

This is akin to Egypt

The government’s priorities also appear skewed. While the government has cancelled the Pakistan Day celebrations on March 23, the Tableeghi Jamaat was allowed to go ahead with its annual congregation with 250,000 people congregating outside of Lahore

As of now the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at 53 with the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that Pakistan faces immense challenges ahead to contain the viral outbreak. According to WHO, “Pakistan has a highly mobile population with mega cities and undeserved people.” These cases are spread across Pakistan’s provinces, with the largest number in Sindh, and all patients were individuals with recent travel history.

When the coronavirus first broke out in China and countries around the world evacuated their citizens including students from Wuhan, Pakistan refused to do so. Tens of thousands of Pakistani students’ study in China with around 1000 in Wuhan itself. The government of Pakistan refused to evacuate them. Further, many Pakistanis travel to Iran, another epicenter of the virus, and yet Pakistan refused to close its borders with Iran as well.

Pakistan’s government may be good at Public Relations (PR) management but are they good at pandemic management!