Without exception, like all the countries of the world, Pakistan is also hit by the pandemic with an increasing number of confirmed cases (see figure below) since February 2020.
Pakistan is the sixth largest populated country in the world with a low per capita income of around US$ 1300. The country’s economy is mainly dependent on small to medium level manufacturing and service industries. Pakistan’s ranking on the Human Development Index (HDI) 2019 is 152 out of 189 countries, resulting in higher percentage of health inequality as compared to the average of South Asian countries. Moreover, Pakistan also ranks 105 out of 195 countries on the Global Health Security Index 2019, inviting the public health experts to question Pakistan's ability to deal with the virus. Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Asad Umar at the beginning of April acknowledged and said that "The rate at which the infection is spreading, we are seeing that the limits of our health system will be tested in coming days”.
However, this is not the first time that Pakistan has experienced national emergency situations. People of Pakistan have suffered from various infectious outbreaks such as dengue, crimean-congo flu, hepatitis, measles, HIV/AIDS, and polio, to name a few. Human-made and natural disasters in the past, such as earthquakes, droughts, floods, and terrorism, have also affected millions of people in the recent pact. Therefore, due to the above mentioned experiences of dealing with emergencies, Pakistan has so far been able to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pakistan has a large public sector health infrastructure that includes 1201 hospitals, 5518 Basic Health Units, 683 Rural Health Centers, 5802 Dispensaries, 731 Maternity and Child Health Centers, 347 TB communities and 123,394 hospital beds. Furthermore, human resource includes around 200,000 doctors, 100,000 nurses and over 95,000 Lady Health Workers. The country has launched National Plan on COVID 19, which clearly spells out the government’s vision and commitment to take unprecedented measure to tackle the situation. The national plan outlines and follows the WHO's Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan (SPRP) for coronavirus and has greatly helped in limiting the spread of the virus to manageable proportions.
The government of Pakistan has set aside a PKR 1.13 trillion ($6.76 billion) budget to effectively deal with corona crisis. A large part of this funding is being spent in health to fight the COVID-19 crisis. For example, an amount of PKR 50 billion ($298.94 million) is being utilized to procure the clinical hardware only. Pakistan's lab tests capacity for corona testing has been increased from 30,000 to 280,000 and shall be additionally enhanced to 900,000 by May 2020.
The national and provincial governments have additionally implemented Coronavirus related laws to effectively deal with the situation. The country is in lockdown for over six weeks now, shutdown measures are causing disruptions in the supply chains and thus exerting negative impact on the economy and society, particularly the poor. The government has started to ease down the lockdown as the spread of the virus seems to be under manageable proportions.
Moreover, the civil society, community and patient organizations have also been very active and helping the government in providing the much-needed help in dealing with this crisis. There are a number of ways the patient advocates and NGOs are providing relief to the community, which include initiatives such as telephone helplines, social media campaigns, Whatsapp Support Groups, provision of free medicine to needy patients, distribution of food Ration packs, corona related informational material development and dissemination and telemedicine programs.
Pakistan so far has been able to implement effective medical, social and economical measures due to which the situation on ground seems to be under control. For example, the total corona related deaths to date (May 01, 2020) are 385, which is 2.1 per cent and lower than the projected mortality rate. The Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan in his recent statement has said that the government has taken unprecedented steps to counter the effects of COVID-19 crisis and so far the country has dealt with the pandemic quite effectively and Pakistan’s situation was not as bad as the United States or Europe.
The challenges facing Pakistan in the current crisis are stark, and it remains to be seen whether the huge interventions that the government has undertaken will be enough to take the country out of this pandemic successfully.
Dr Hussain Jafri, Fatima Jinnah Medical University Lahore,Pakistan