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May 12, 2020

Health concerns

Editorial

 
May 12, 2020

Imagine hospitals in which patients lie in beds, perhaps even attached to monitoring devices and oxygen masks, with no one to offer them the care they so urgently need. As we end the lockdown in the country at a time when there are over 31,600 cases and almost 700 deaths, we also have 11 health professionals who have so far lost their lives to the deadly virus in Pakistan. In total, 440 doctors, 215 paramedics and 111 nurses have been infected so far. The last 257 cases of confirmed infections among medical staff came between May 5 and May 9. Nurses, who mark International Nurses Day today, are like other medical staff naturally terrified. Nurses are central to care at hospitals across the world, and Pakistan’s ratio of 0.5 nurses or less to every 1,000 people is insufficient in the first place. We need to give the profession of nursing far greater respect. As their organisations have pointed out, they have appealed repeatedly for better and more protective gear and also opposed the end of the lockdown, with senior doctors representing various organisations including the PMA making their opinions well known since the decision to reopen was announced by the prime minister. Hospital officials fear that at specialized care facilities, there will soon be a severe shortage of trained staff. The fact that doctors, nurses and paramedics are also putting themselves into self-isolation after coming into contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus adds further to the shortfall.

Some specialized centres caring for other conditions are already facing possible closure after staff members have tested positive. Most health workers are contracting the infection at critical care facilities where they must work closely with Covid-19 patients. One healthcare provider is on life support at present, and there are dozens others waiting for test results. All four provinces as well as Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK have been affected, with 186 healthcare providers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 184 in Punjab positive for the virus. This is hardly surprising, given that while doctors may have now received PPEs which some say are of inferior quality, nurses and paramedics have largely been ignored. Obviously, if healthcare providers land up in hospital beds themselves, patients will suffer. We wonder if the government has plans to tackle this crisis. After all, no one can stand in for doctors. This is not a matter of calling in volunteers.

Health workers suggest a larger-scale awareness campaign. But it is unlikely that this would work, with major cities now already set to be engaged in pre-Eid shopping, given the opening up of market places. This can only speed the spread of the virus, create a scenario where our poorly maintained healthcare system collapses and we lose the lives of more professionals who are attempting to save citizens from possible death. Pakistan is now amongst the 20 countries in the world with the highest coronavirus burden. It is also a country that has relaxed the lockdown at a time when cases continue to spike. The wisdom, or lack of it, will become clearer in the two to three weeks ahead during which we can only pray for our medical staff and hope there is some attempt to enforce the SOPs agreed upon before lifting the lockdown.