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November 21, 2020

‘Pakistan adapting its response to Covid-19 as situation evolves’

National

November 21, 2020

Islamabad: Like many countries, Pakistan is adapting its response to COVID-19 as the situation evolves. The country is committed to containing the outbreak, while ensuring that gains made so far in other areas are not impeded. Special efforts are underway for management of Points of Entry and strengthening of Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE) at the federal and provincial levels; the latter being an area marked by limited resources and lack of seasoned expertise.

Minister for National Health Services Dr. Faisal Sultan expressed these views while addressing a virtual press conference Thursday along with the WHO Regional Director for Eastern Mediterranean Region Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Minister of Health in Bahrain Faeqa Bint Saeed Al-Saleh; and Director General of Health in Tunisia Dr Faycal Ben Salah.

“Pakistan has made many achievements since the start of the pandemic. However, like many countries around the world, easing of lockdowns resulted in a resurgence of cases in October. This required a strategic review of our response,” Dr. Sultan stated.

Recalling WHO’s role in Pakistan, the Minister said, an EMR mission visited the country in October to review lessons learned and to strategize technical guidance for a more robust response. The mission’s objectives were to provide technical support for reviewing progress towards Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response; examining the situation on the Points of Entry; initiating work on essential health services to align with the targets of PHC for UHC; and reviewing RCCE.

Dr. Faisal said, Pakistan’s decade long efforts to eradicate polio have now being impacted by COVID-19, as polio staff and resources are diverted to the pandemic response. He said, even though there are well functioning disease surveillance systems in Pakistan, “there is a need to progressively build and expand disease programmes and geographical coverage with governance implementation and resource management, data convergence, strengthening of key technical aspects and quality assurance.”

Dr. Faisal mentioned how COVID-19 has led Pakistan to rethink its approach to managing Points of Entry. Earlier on, Dr. Al-Mandhari presented an update you on the current situation in EMR. “Out of 55 million cases globally, our Region reports more than 3.6 million cases of COVID-19. While more than 60% of all cases in the past week were reported from three countries—Iran, Jordan and Morocco—several other countries continue to see an increase in cases, including Lebanon and Pakistan. Countries that reported the largest increase in deaths included Jordan, Tunisia, and Lebanon,” he counted.

The WHO chief said, current trends underline the need for a comprehensive approach to management of the pandemic—continued scaling up of proven public health measures, consistent adherence to personal protective measures, and select and targeted application of social measures, such as lockdowns.

At the regional level, a ministerial working group has been established to review lessons learnt from countries during the past nine months, and present key recommendations to countries as they revise their strategies. This will also involve greater coordination by countries who share borders, Dr. Al-Mandhari said.

Referring to recent news of potential vaccines for COVID-19, Dr. Al-Mandhari said, “a vaccine is not the magic solution to ending this pandemic. Until every last person is vaccinated, there is still a risk that people who carry the virus can pass it on to others.”

The WHO regional chief emphasized the need for preventative measures including mask use and physical distancing. “In many countries, we are seeing a concerning deterioration in adherence to these and other public health measures. While we trust communities to take action to protect themselves and others, countries may need to make tough decisions and apply stricter measures to ensure that their populations adhere to the proven measures that work,” he said.

Dr. Al-Mandhari said, this is not the time to relax. “In addition to the millions of people already mourning the loss of their loved ones, millions more face the same fate if we do not act now. We cannot wait until a safe and effective vaccine becomes available for all, because we do not know when this will be. In the first nine months of the pandemic in our Region, more than 3 million were infected and 76,000 died.

The lives of as many people – if not more – are at stake over the next nine months. And in addition to preventing this tragic premonition from becoming a reality, we must also address the cracks that have been revealed in our health care systems, to prevent this from happening again,” he advised in conclusion.