The fault is in our strategy

June 03, 2020

The recent attack on the Civil hospital Karachi has rightfully perturbed the medical community that has been risking itself for the future of this nation. The mob not only damaged medical equipment...

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The recent attack on the Civil hospital Karachi has rightfully perturbed the medical community that has been risking itself for the future of this nation. The mob not only damaged medical equipment but one of the protesters also reportedly slapped a female doctor. Such condemnable acts reflect our insensitivity towards those who are serving us selflessly; it also shows the selective bravery within us that prompts us to attack the weak and bow down to the powerful.

The attack is also a result of the lethal propaganda unleashed by various elements in the aftermath of the pandemic. Many still dismiss the coronavirus as a Western propaganda that is aimed to harm Muslims and the Islamic world. Social media is still brimming with nefarious false propaganda denying the very existence of the virus. Some of them accuse the medical community of concocting stories about the deadly virus. A famous demagogue and veteran of the Afghan jihad daily comes up with lethal tweets that are aimed at dismissing the virus as nothing but imaginary. It is surprising that such propaganda continues to make its way into the public domain, promoting conspiratorial thinking towards the pandemic rather than an understanding of the disease.

It is not only self-proclaimed security experts and religious circles that have come up with strange ideas about the disease but many educated people are also spreading negative propaganda about the pandemic that has already affected more than 70,000 people in Pakistan besides claiming over 1500 lives. The government, instead of thwarting this propaganda, seems busy fighting the opposition. At a time when the prime minister should have led the nation in facing this challenge, the federal government has opened multiple confrontational fronts which has undermined our fight against the virus. So what we see is not a coherent strategy to battle the pandemic but a number of plans to gag the media, stifle dissenting voices and launch a senseless revenge campaign against the opposition leaders.

The government itself expressed a lack of seriousness when Prime Minister Imran Khan described the virus as akin to a flu in the beginning. This approach was close to Donald Trump who also took the pandemic in non-serious way which, according to Trump’s critics, is partly responsible for the death of more than 100,000 Americans. To add salt to the wounds of corona victims, the American president went on golfing amidst this all chaos. Imran Khan’s critics accuse him of following the same attitude. He kept on dithering when a rapid action was needed. His reluctance in imposing the lockdown sowed the seeds of chaos and confusion which are still creating problems not only for provincial governments and administrations but medical community as well. The Kaptaan like Trump also chose to visit a secluded place recently amidst the rising death toll and phenomenal spike in corona cases.

Instead of providing crucial PPEs to the medical community and arranging ventilators for possible disastrous scenarios, the government wasted time on making a 'Tiger Force' in the presence of over one million government employees whose services could have been easily used for the purpose of relief. Such employees are comparatively better suited to work in such situations because they already understand the government’s mechanism and ways to deal with such pandemic. After all the services of such employees are also used during the census, polio vaccination drives and natural calamities. Despite spending much time and allegedly precious state money, the Force is still not visible.

What is done cannot be undone. The government now must spring into action. First of all, it is the responsibility of the Sindh government to bring to task those who attacked the civil hospital. Doctors and medical staff must work in an environment free from fear, intimidation and harassment. Security around hospitals and medical facilities across the country should immediately be beefed up. A massive awareness campaign should be launched in Urdu and all regional languages telling people not only about the harms of the pandemic but the government’s process in case of the death of a corona patient. The medical community has demonstrated great restraint after facing this insulting attitude.

Another issue that needs urgent attention is the provision of PPEs and lack of ventilators and high dependency units. A number of hospitals reportedly turned away corona patients, citing lack of space. The government announced some weeks ago that it had over 2000 ventilators but many from the medical community claim a number of such ventilators are not functioning. As Covid-19 cases rise, we will badly need ventilators to curb the rising trend of fatalities. It was also announced some weeks ago that more ventilators would be imported to tackle the situation. The government should clearly state the exact number of ventilators and high dependency units. The government should also work on a war footing to increase their numbers to meet any eventualities.

Amidst this chaos, private hospitals are making tons of money. Some elite hospitals are accused of charging exorbitant amounts per day. It is unfortunate to see that such health facilities and their owners cannot overcome their greed for profit even during these testing times. The state must spring into action, reining in such money makers.

The government should also revisit its definition of frontline workers. It is not only the staff working at isolation units; most of the over 2000 medical staff that have been affected by Covid-19 are from various departments of the health facilities. More and more doctors and members of paramedical staff are getting affected because of the lack of PPEs and other required facilities. Recently, a young doctor and a nurse lost their lives while serving patients. We should not punish our medical staff for being preoccupied with the work that they do rather than thinking about their families and loved ones. We must appreciate their selflessness and altruistic approach towards the pandemic. They do not need our applause or salute but rather they need PPEs, tight security around hospitals and life insurance.

Finally, the government should also enhance its testing capacity. We were told that it would be raised to 30,000 tests per day by the end of April but it is still very low, which cannot help to have a clear picture about the number of Covid-19 cases. Any strategy formed to tackle the pandemic without a realistic picture would be less effective. The government should seek the help of China, Japan and South Korea to enhance this capacity so that we are in a better position to deal with the situation.

We need to admit that our plan to deal with this disaster has been faulty and efforts must be made to correct this strategy. One hopes that this plan entails security for hospitals and staff, provision of PPEs for the medical and paramedical community and effective mechanism to deal with propaganda on the corona issue.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: egalitarianism444

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