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May 6, 2020

Covid disparities

Editorial

 
May 6, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic has overtaken virtually the entire world. But the capacity of individual countries to deal with this crisis is very different. A new report released by the UNDP states that Pakistan has one of the lowest levels of preparedness because of its limited human development, poor health infrastructure, lack of internet usage and related issues. Pakistan, one of the countries in the world which spends the smallest percentage of its GDP on health, with only 2.8 percent allocated for the sector, has only 9.8 physicians, five nurses and six hospital beds for every 10,000 people. This is especially visible in terms of the low number of nurses available. In contrast, developed countries for every 10,000 persons have 30 physicians, 81 nurses and 55 hospital beds. We are seeing a continued rise in coronavirus cases in our country, with experts stating the virus is yet to reach its peak. An alarming number of positive tests are emerging from passengers who disembark from flights coming in to the country, notably those from the UAE which carry workers living in dormitory-style settings. This will add to Pakistan’s concerns.

Sindh and the Punjab stand virtually shoulder-to-shoulder, with 8,100 cases in Sindh and 7,600 in Punjab. The highest percentage of deaths continues in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Our healthcare workers are especially vulnerable, with more nurses and doctors testing positive, and another doctor dying in Karachi – circumstances of which are being probed by the Sindh government. We are also seeing other problems, with OPD departments shut down and patients with other high-risk health issues left without assistance. In Peshawar, the Lady Reading Hospital has closed its gynecology department, the largest in the province, after quite a few of its staff tested positive for the virus – leaving hundreds of pregnant women in the lurch. Through all this, the virus continues to spread. Talks of a softening of the lockdown is being heard, but in doing so we would be breaking away from other countries who relax lockdowns only after their Covid curve had begun to flatten. There is no real evidence of that in Pakistan for now.

One of the problems with the rate of spread is the fact that even after mass media campaigns, people seem indifferent to social distancing, crowding around supermarket stalls as well as other areas. This is perhaps most visible at mosques where the 20-point agenda agreed to between the government and ulema is being blatantly violated in 250 mosques and religious spaces. The police administration is said to have sent out at least 460 notices to these institutions, but with limited response. The main violations involve the participation of people over 50 in prayers, including taraveeh prayers, the presence of children at them, a lack of social distancing and a failure to follow regulations regarding the removal of carpets or communal mats. These problems will make the virus harder to contain. There is a fear that a health structure which lurches already could fatally tumble under greater strain. We can only hope that strategies can be adopted to prevent this, persuade people that the virus is very real and not a figment of someone’s imagination and that the only way it can be stopped is if people follow the measures requested of them.