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Evaluating Pakistan’s Response to Covid-19

By 27/05/2021 June 4th, 2021 0 Comments

Introduction

The coronavirus pandemic has turned out to be a major catalyst for change in the global order. As the pandemic spread, people all around the world looked towards developed nations in hope of understanding their response and efforts for fighting the disease. However, it soon became evident that none of those nations was prepared for the challenge. Varying responses among the general masses led to widespread confusion, making the already fraught situation more difficult to manage for governments and law enforcement agencies. Pakistan saw its first case of Covid19 on the 26th of February 2020, when two people returned from a religious pilgrimage in Iran. On the 18th of March 2020, cases had been recorded in all provinces and the federal territory. Pakistan has remained successful in managing its response to Covid19, with many countries looking towards its model for future planning. Continue reading to understand Pakistan response to the coronavirus pandemic.

What Guided Pakistan’s National Policy

The coronavirus pandemic came to Pakistan as early as February 2020 after its discovery in China, just 2 months earlier. The disease quickly spread to almost all areas of Pakistan including metropolitan centres and rural districts, but overall reported cases remained low due to limited testing. Even before the pandemic, Pakistan’s economy was already facing multiple challenges and the country had to go to IMF for a loan. Therefore, it can be imagined that Pakistan was resource starved and heavily under-equipped to deal with the challenge of Covid19 (Younus).  Pakistan’s health infrastructure already painted a dismal picture as there were negligible public health laboratories that could conduct the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for accurate Covid19 detection. The initial response came from the Federal Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (MOHSRC) in the form of the formation of the National Coordination Council (NCC), headed by the Prime Minister (Dawn). Despite limited resources, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was mobilized for procurement of essential supplies (Khan).

As the world entered this pandemic simultaneously, there was no guide in the initial stages of the response. Looking at China was not a viable option as there is a massive difference between the two countries demographics, supplies, and technological capacity. Pakistan needed an urgent strategy for its weak healthcare system, scarcity of resources, weak understanding of standard operating procedures among masses, and policy formation at the government level. Looking at the varying responses from European and North American countries, Pakistan quickly imposed closure of educational institutes, bans on large gatherings, and closure of non-essential businesses to ensure that its healthcare system does not get overburdened. Pakistan also needed to deal with its capacity for molecular diagnostics and several testing sites in the public sector were commissioned under the National Institute of Health (NIH) (Taj). Covid response guidelines and regulations were also made under established expert committees. Standard operating procedures for case detection and prevention were set. Lastly, a think tank was set up to formulate strategies for procurement of essential supplies, vaccines, and derivation of future strategies.

Pakistan’s Use of Data for Effective Decision Making

Pakistan started using data in its fight against covid19 at a very early stage, providing positive results throughout its handling of the pandemic. Initially, all the organisations were focused on logistics and supplies, but by the end of March 2020, Pakistan began collecting data that was reported directly to NCOC. Monitoring and analysing everyday projections became an essential part of Pakistan’s response to covid19. Data collected from testing labs and public-private nonprofit sectors were amalgamated into one public database which would streamline the analysis and prediction process. Electronic interfaces were launched to help the public access this data. An app called Pak Nigehban was launched to keep track of local resources, especially the number of emergency beds available in hospitals. Three different forecasting models were used by the government, but their details were not made public. Although there was a hit and trial scenario in terms of data collection, the overall results of the approach remained positive. Therefore, the use of data from the early stages of the pandemic was one of the most successful strategies of the Pakistani government (WHO, 2021).

Result of Pakistan’s Response

Considering the scale of the disaster in other countries, it can be said that Pakistan’s response has been effective on many fronts, despite the limited resources. In the early stages of the pandemic, the NIH trained technician for carrying out tests. This massively increased Pakistan’s ability to test and record data on virus spread in the country. The NCOC also remained successful in the procurement of personal protection equipment, oxygen supply systems, and ventilators. As Pakistan remained heavily short of human resources, virtual training centres became an effective tool for the dissemination of skills and development programs. Pakistan also managed to successfully establish a central reporting system for data to provide accurate analysis and predictions of future outbreak areas. This real-time reporting was also made publicly available. Considering that Pakistan could not sustain long intervals of complete lockdowns, the country was the first to introduce the concept of smart lockdowns to the world. The strategy proved to be a success when coupled with massive social support programs launched by the government (Mahar).

The construction sector of Pakistan employs the largest number of people after the agriculture sector. The decision to partially resume construction activity was a crucial step towards giving the economy a boost, which was already strained and predicted to negatively grow in FY2020. Pakistan also successfully managed contact tracing to reinforce necessary precautions. Mobile phones were sent with short messages that outlines the importance of taking covid19 precautions. In terms of a positive financial gesture to spur private investment, the State Bank of Pakistan also provided loans at an incredible rate of less than 3 percent. Pakistan also managed to launch a robust response to vaccine research and development, with the country being able at present to manufacture its own homemade vaccine. Not every aspect of Pakistan’s response can be covered in this article, but it can be safely said that Pakistan has even outperformed its regional partners and even the European countries in its fight against the coronavirus.

Conclusion

Pakistan’s response to the pandemic has been lauded internationally for its robust programmes for social protection, analysis and collection of large amounts of data, and formation of government level committees that performed in an exceptional manner. Considering that the pandemic came at a time when the country’s resources were financially strained and loans had to be taken from IMF, it can be said that Pakistan has outperformed its expectations in many areas. The country is plagued by many differences at the political, social, and cultural level, but at times of hardship, Pakistan has time and again proved that its citizens will come together to ward off any threat.

Bibliography

Dawn. (2020). PM Imran constitutes National Coordination Committee on Tourism to boost sector. Retrieved from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1576587

Khan, I. (2020). Rs7.8bn approved for NDMA to contain pandemic. Retrieved from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1543797

Taj, I. A. (2020). Punjab has conducted nearly 15,000 Covid-19 tests but other provinces are lagging behind. Retrieved from Dawn: https://www.dawn.com/news/1545551

WHO. (2021). Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. Retrieved from http://www.emro.who.int/in-press/reviews/balancing-science-and-public-policy-in-pakistans-covid-19-response.html

Younus, U. (2020). Coronavirus hits Pakistan’s already-strained economy, and its most vulnerable. Retrieved from https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/coronavirus-hits-pakistans-already-strained-economy-and-its-most-vulnerable/

Mahar I. (2020). Polarization between Pakistan’s federal and Sindh governments on Covid‐19. Modern Diplomacy. Retrieved from (https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2020/04/18/polarization‐between‐pakistans‐federal‐and‐ sindh‐governments‐on‐covid‐19.

Research Questions

1. What guided Pakistan’s national policy in the initial response?

2. How Pakistan used data for effective decision making?

3. What was the result of Pakistan’s response?

Key Takeaways

1. As the pandemic spread, people all around the world looked towards developed nations in hope of understanding their response and efforts for fighting the disease.

2. Varying responses among general masses led to widespread confusion, making the already fraught upon situation more difficult to manage for governments and law enforcing agencies.

3. Pakistan has remained successful in managing its response to Covid19, with many countries looking towards its model for future planning.

4. Looking at China was not a viable option as there is a massive difference between the two countries demographics, supplies, and technological capacity.

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