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March 13, 2020

Most hospitals in Karachi ill-prepared to deal with coronavirus emergency situation


March 13, 2020

The majority of both public and private hospitals in Karachi seem to be ill-prepared to deal with a potential outbreak of COVID-19, as neither do they have an adequate facility for coronavirus test nor they have sufficient number of beds, ventilators, trained doctors, paramedics and personal protective equipment to deal with the pandemic, The News has learnt.

A survey of different hospitals in Karachi reveals that except for the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) and the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS), no other public or private health facility have had the capability of testing and diagnosing coronavirus. They include the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC), the Civil Hospital Karachi (CHK), the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), and the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.

Karachi’s major public health facilities have been ignored to the extent that no official or heads of these major, tertiary-care hospitals, including the JPMC, the CHK, the NICH and the ASH, have been included in the Sindh Chief Minister’s Taskforce on Coronavirus, which daily meets and decides how to tackle the threat of coronavirus and how to treat patients who have so far been tested positive for the highly contagious viral disease. The only two hospitals whose officials have been included in the CM’s Taskforce are the AKUH and the Indus Hospital Karachi, although the latter neither tests coronavirus suspects nor it has any separate, isolation facility to keep and treat the suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19, officials said.

During the survey and interviews with the heads of four major public and several private hospitals, it emerged that no personal protective equipment had been provided to these hospitals by the Sindh government, which is currently holding thousands of masks it confiscated from traders and importers, while these public and private hospitals were also facing shortage of hazmat suits and other protective gear to deal with any emergency.

“Not a single mask, hazmat suit or any other equipment has been provided to the JPMC by the Sindh government so far. At the start of this outbreak, the JPMC was declared the focal point but after that neither we were consulted nor asked if we are prepared to deal with any emergency regarding coronavirus,” an official of the JPMC told The News, on condition of anonymity.

The JPMC official said they had acquired 10 hazmat suits and some masks from the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the start of coronvirus outbreak in China but the Sindh government did not provide any personal protective equipment, medicines or machinery to deal with the emergency situation.

“We have established an isolation ward at the hospital but it is just a simple isolation ward without the facility of having negative air pressure. We have provided disposable masks to our staff and asked them to take precautionary measures in case any suspected patient is brought to our hospital,” the official said, adding that so far they had two suspected patients, who were tested negative after their samples were sent to a private health facility for test.

A similar situation is being observed at the CHK, which had a couple of confirmed and suspected Coronavirus patients in the recent days as the Sindh’s one of the largest public hospitals was facing an acute shortage of personal protective equipment, masks, medicines and ventilators, while the hospital was also lacked trained staff to take care of patients as well as themselves to deal with the coronavirus threat.

The most ill-prepared tertiary-care facility in Karachi is the ASH which is the largest health facility in District Central and East, and caters to thousands of people. However, doctors are protesting at ASH for non-payment of salaries and there is an acute shortage of protective equipment, medicines and machinery, officials said, adding that in case of any coronavirus positive case, the hospital staff and patients could contract the infection due to lack of tanning and facilities.

Precautionary measures

Eminent microbiologist Prof Dr Shahana Urooj Kazmi says COVID-19 is a highly contagious but not a very lethal viral disease and people who are of old age, have compromised immunity and other co-morbidities could be at risk. She says healthy people have tiny chances of becoming extremely sick due to coronavirus infection.

“People should take simple precautionary measures like washing their hands regularly with soap and water or using alcohol-based sanitizers. They should avoid going to large gatherings and use facemasks in case of flu-like symptoms,” she says, adding that by maintaining personal hygiene and sanitation, this outbreak and pandemic could be defeated.

Coronavirus helpline

An official of the Sindh health department rejected reports that hospitals were “ill-equipped to deal with the coronavirus threat”, saying they had established isolation wards at all major health facilities, provided them “whatever equipment required” while new health facilities were being upgraded to deal any emergency situation.

“Most tests are being performed at the AKU and the DUHS labs. Patients are being kept at three major tertiary-care facilities in Karachi, while a helpline has been established to assist people in need of any information or help,” an official of the health department said.

“People could call on these numbers for help: 021-99206565, 021-99203443, 021-99204405, Mobile No. 0316-0111712 and Federal Govt Helpline (1166).”