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March 22, 2020

WHO for more unified action to bend coronavirus curve

Lahore

March 22, 2020

Islamabad : While Prime Minister Imran Khan has very befittingly elevated the government’s response to the highest level by involving the apex National Security Committee in planning interventions on Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19), Pakistan needs to take more unified and coordinated action—with the provinces and the society fully on board—in order to bend the disease curve.

The Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Pakistan Dr. Palitha Mahipala expressed views to this effect at a press briefing held at the WHO Country Office here on Friday. The briefing had a two-fold purpose: to apprise the media of WHO’s role as the lead technical health agency assisting Pakistan in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak, and to sensitize the media on how it can appease a panic situation by introducing the ‘Whole of Society’ approach, with a focus on changing mindsets vis-à-vis hand hygiene and social distancing.

Flanked by WHO team leads, Dr. Palitha started off by sharing global, regional and national data on the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the WHO data platform, 2,09,839 cases of COVID-19 have globally been confirmed, with 8,778 deaths and a case fatality of 4.18. China has reported 81,174 cases with 3,242 deaths and a case fatality of 3.99. “There are a few hotspots in the world, where the number of cases is rapidly increasing, Italy being one such country with 20,980 cases, 2,158 deaths, and a high case fatality due to a large elderly population and persons with comorbid conditions. Closer in the neighbourhood, Iran is another hotspot with 18,407 cases, 1,046 deaths and case fatality of 5.6,” Dr. Palitha shared. Referring to the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, which comprises 23 countries including Pakistan, Dr. Palitha said, there have been 21,042 cases in EMRO so far, with 1,314 deaths and a case fatality rate of 6.24.

Appreciating Pakistan’s response, Dr. Palitha said, 208 hospitals and 1,715 beds have so far been identified for isolation purposes. Of these, 94 hospitals are located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 41 in Punjab, 33 in Sindh, 20 in Balochistan, 15 in Gilgit-Baltistan, and 5 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Diagnostic facilities have been expanded from one facility at the National Institute of Health to 13 laboratories across the country, in addition to a mobile laboratory at the Taftan border. “By and large, the government’s response with respect to case management, contact tracing, surveillance at Points of Entry, (PoE) infection prevention and control, identification of hospitals and isolation facilities, and provision of supplies, is streamlined and coordinated,” Dr. Palitha maintained.

Reflecting on WHO’s role, Dr. Palitha shared that by January 10, WHO had sent to all of its member states, a set of guidelines for PoE screening, isolation, quarantine, risk communication, etc. “We shared these guidelines with the Minister for Health, and the very next day, he established an operational cell chaired by himself. Subsequently, several technical working groups were notified on surveillance, coordination, PoE screening, infection control, diagnosis, communication, etc. WHO has been an active part of these committees, lending technical assistance where needed,” he stated. WHO has also been involved in planning and coordination; it offered technical inputs in the development of the National Action Plan on COVID-19; helped assess the country’s surveillance capacity at PoE; conducted trainings; assisted with stockpiling and logistics; and ensured provision of diagnostic kits to labs. “We have also strengthened public health surveillance; the polio infrastructure is currently being used to gather information,” Dr. Palitha stated, with another official sharing how WHO is coordinating with national and provincial counterparts to choose the best technology and kits within the minimum possible timeframe.

Dr. Palitha also apprised the media of the establishment of a Strategic Health Operation and Control (SHOC) Room in the WHO Country Office, with an incident management structure and organogram. “We are working round the clock in tandem with the government to establish similar SHOC Rooms at the provincial level as well,” he shared. The WHO chief said, an expert mission from WHO EMRO spent two days in Pakistan during which they prepared a report on areas requiring prioritization.

At the international level, WHO is involved in increasing understanding of COVID-19 and its dynamics; research activities and exploration of scientific innovations; coordination with partners; preparation of clinical case management guidelines; and disease trend forecasting, among other interventions. Dr. Palitha said, there is so far no substantial evidence yet about any effective treatment for COVID-19. “As vaccine trials continue, cocktails of medicines are being used in different countries for symptomatic treatment,” he added. Dr. Palitha advised the media to raise public awareness on 10 key areas: practice hand hygiene; clean surfaces with disinfectants; educate yourself and others about signs and symptoms of COVID-19; avoid traveling if you have fever and cough; use a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze; avoid crowded areas; stay at home if you feel unwell.