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March 20, 2020

Islamabad hospitals reject ‘no need to panic’ chant

Islamabad

March 20, 2020

Islamabad : Rejecting the government’s ‘No need to panic’ chant in connection with the spread of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in Pakistan, health professionals representing Islamabad’s five government hospitals Thursday alerted the public not to visit the Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) of these hospitals till measures for protection of the health workforce are enforced. They also served a three-day ultimatum to the government: “If you fail to provide personal protective equipment to every single employee of all five hospitals by Monday, we will be forced to shut down the OPDs from Tuesday onwards.”

Representing the Grand Health Alliance-Islamabad at a press conference hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), the Spokesman of the PIMS All Employees Association and Chairman of Young Consultants Association Dr. Asfandyar Khan said, just like battles cannot be won without weapons, a disease of pandemic proportions cannot be fought without protection of the health workforce.

Exposing how ill-equipped the government is to handle the COVID-19 outbreak, Dr. Asfandyar revealed that the so-called COVID Isolation Ward established in a big hospital like PIMS is equipped with just 10 beds and two ventilators. “Not a single additional ventilator for Coronavirus patients has been given to PIMS, Poly Clinic, National Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine, CDA Hospital, or the Federal General Hospital,” he alleged, adding “If the government does not have the resources to even meet as basic a requirement as masks for all health employees, then the country’s philanthropists should come forward and donate protective equipment to our hospitals.”

Dr. Asfandyar said, up to 35,000 patients visit the OPDs of Islamabad’s five government hospitals every day, with the overall patient load being in excess of 100,000 on any given day. And each patient is accompanied by at least two or three attendants. “Even a single COVID positive person visiting the hospital without protection will potentially infect the entire crowd,” he said. “As such, if the government does not recognize the gravity of the threat, we as health workers are duty-bound to advise the public to stay away from hospitals, except in case of emergencies,” he maintained.

Dr. Asfandyar clarified that the health workforce has no desire to shut down the OPDs and is fully geared to provide interrupted services even for 72 hours, should the need arise, “but we will not commit suicide as examining patients without protective gear is akin to committing suicide.” He said, we have no demand other than provision of protective kits. “We are already short of nurses and doctors; what plan does the government have if its health force acquires the COVID-19 infection? Nobody will then come forward to treat patients,” he said.

Dr. Asfandyar said, if the government does not fulfill our demand, “we will not work in OPDs, not because we are on strike, but to protect our patients. We will provide online treatment to them; we will pay home visits; but we will not see them in OPDs.” He advised patients to remain indoors for self-protection as hospitals are no less than danger zones in their current state of preparedness. “We do not have the requisite arrangements to cope with this emergency. The government has miserably failed to protect health professionals, who are the frontline soldiers in the war against this pandemic.

Dr. Asfandyar criticized the government’s policy of having COVID Isolation Wards in health facilities already over-populated with regular patients and demanded that an exclusive 200-bed isolation facility for COVID patients be established outside the precincts of Islamabad. “We will willingly work in a dedicated facility, and are even ready to work on the Taftan border or in any other part of Pakistan where our services may be required, but we will not work without self-protection and we will not endanger the lives of thousands of patients,” he reiterated.

Dr. Asfandyar raised questions regarding the whereabouts of members of the health task force which was so proactively pursuing the enforcement of MTI. “Where are they all—Dr. Zafar Mirza, Dr. Faisal Sultan, Dr. Nausherwaan Burki? Not even a single MNA, MPA, or nazim has visited PIMS to examine the situation with their own eyes. Doctors who are on strike in Punjab, KPK, Sindh, and Balochistan are absolutely justified. But our PM is being fed with an ‘all ok’ report; he does not know that we have all the reasons to panic,” he stated.

The doctors also demanded of the Prime Minister to announce the ‘martyrs package’ for any health professional who expires in the line of duty when treating COVID patients.