Pakistan’s Medical Response to COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed the whole world into its clutches; it has indeed maneuvered the very way of life to great extents. It has pushed humanity to virtual connectivity be it the online classes, graduation ceremonies or work from home. All this because of the lethality of the virus and its spread, with more than 5 million deaths across the globe to its name. Importantly, it has brought down the super powers to its knees including USA at the top with 0.7 million deaths. Ironically the death toll is highest in much of the modern world be it UK, France, Russia etc. and has badly exposed their vulnerabilities. At the same time Pakistan’s response to the virus was commendable with strict lockdowns further modified by smart lockdowns, resultantly the spread and the death rate remained controllable unlike our neighbor India which stood at the 2nd place in terms of deaths related to COVID-19 i.e. more than 0.4 million deaths. Having said that speaking strictly in terms of Pakistan’s health policy relating to COVID-19, certain modifications are direly needed.

Soon after the discovery of COVID-19 cases in the country, the hospitals responded by creating isolated wards for the COVID-19 patients, the doctors in COVID-19 wards were provided with PPEs, sanitizing facilities, face covering masks and shields during shortages in supply. But, even after more than a year since the inception of the virus, the problem lies in the allocation of COVID-19 duties to these doctors. The hospitals assign the ward to Trainee Medical Officers (TMOs) of various specialties working in these hospitals on a weekly rotational basis. The question here arises that assigning a duty to a Trainee doctor of Orthopedics, Dermatology, Surgery, and even Ophthalmology, are they capable or eligible to render medical services to such critical patients of COVID-19? These individuals are the doctors of sub-specialties where their expertise have deviated from handling such critical patients. For instance, are trainee doctors of Orthopedics or Dermatology the suitable candidates to perform such duties? Now there are two basic outcomes to this practice. Firstly, the sub-specialty doctors cannot focus and concentrate on their core areas of studies due to their to and fro between the two different areas which is analogous to “a rolling stone gathers no moss”. In the long run the country will not be able to produce specialists of a higher caliber because of this muddle up and improper trainings. Additionally, the specialized units are also closed and made into makeshift COVID-19 isolations, hampering the trainings of TMOs. Secondly, dedicating a doctor who does not hold specialty or training in treating COVID-19 patients is tantamount to putting the life in danger of the suffering patient as it is rightly said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

In the initial days of the pandemic the aforementioned setups were the need of the hour, it was an emergency situation but after the lapse of more than a year, policymakers need to evolve. Furthermore, by analyzing the mutating nature of the virus it is going to continuously pose a serious threat to our way of life and existence for an unfortunate longer periods of time the answer to which no one knows. Moreover, the efficacy of vaccines is yet to be monitored against the new variants of the virus which are more lethal and have higher spread rate than its previous versions. Policy makers need to think of long term strategies for example, the hospitals under MTI can hire medical officers strictly for COVID-19 duties and properly training them for COVID-19 related emergencies. In the province of KP in the past 5 years the government has inducted some more than 4000 medical officers who can be trained and assigned rotational duties related to COVID-19. Moreover, these medical officers need to be provided with opportunities to conduct incentivized research related to COVID-19. Apart from this it is also mandatory to make the hospitals research oriented so that Pakistan can also become a contributor in the world’s fight against the virus.

In this scenario the specialty doctors will be able to continue their trainings in their specialized areas with clear mind and concentration and in the long run we will avoid to produce specialists of lower caliber which in turn can have its own grave consequences. Similarly, their respective departments and units also need to be reopened completely to avoid gaps and loopholes in their learning and skills. Pakistan has still been unable to get rid of Polio and now matters have been made worse by a virus like Covid-19. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to improvise with the pandemic and avoid causing an institutional decline in the longer run.

Author profile

Muhammad Bilal Khattak
Alumni – Youth Provincial Assembly – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

The author is a native of Peshawar and holds a degree of Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from University of Engineering and Technology, Peshawar. Currently, he is working as a civil servant.