Pakistani doctors warn of imminent collapse of healthcare due to Covid-19

Islamabad, Jun 16 (EFE).- The Pakistan Medical Association on Tuesday warned that the healthcare system of the country was on the verge of collapse due to a massive surge in cases of the new coronavirus, with hospitals running out of beds and “full” signs hanging outside health facilities.

“The cases are going up rapidly and the health system is collapsing,” Qaiser Sajjad, secretary of the PMA, told EFE.

The doctor said that in major cities such as Islamabad, Lahore (east), Karachi (south) and Peshawar (northwest), patients were being forced to run from hospital to hospital in search of vacant beds, especially in containment areas for Covid-19 patients.

Sajjad confirmed that many hospitals, such as the Agha Khan, Indus and Dow in Karachi, had put up “full” signs outside their doors.

“When a bed is vacant a patient is admitted, otherwise they are turned back,” he said.

In a country with a population of 207 million, nearly 149,000 people had tested positive for the coronavirus by Tuesday along with 2,839 deaths, with 111 deaths being registered in the last 24 hours: the highest single-day death toll since the epidemic began.

The pace of fresh infections and deaths is accelerating and last week the country registered 40,807 cases, a 39 percent jump compared to the week before, while the number of average daily deaths climbed from 77 to 95.

The country has one doctor for around 1,000 inhabitants and around 132,000 hospital beds in total.

The government had lifted a two-month long lockdown in May, with Prime Minister Imran Khan justifying the decision by citing the emergency economic condition of the country and the fact that most of its workers were poor. He has repeated this argument a number of times since the crisis began.

Khan has also continuously urged people to use face masks and maintain social distancing, although the government is expecting cases to touch a million by the end of August despite this.

Even the World Health Organization has recommended Pakistani authorities to impose a fresh nationwide lockdown to contain the spike in cases.

After infections continued to soar, on Tuesday the government finally imposed restrictions in some areas of its 20 biggest cities, including Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore (capital of Punjab province), and Karachi – its biggest financial hub – in a measure termed as a “smart lockdown.”

However, the medical fraternity believes that the step is insufficient.

“Now this virus has spread all over the country. Complete lockdown is the only solution. This ‘smart lockdown’ is not that effective,” Sajjad said.

The Dawn, one of the popular English-language dailies in the country, on Tuesday backed the doctors’ opinion in an editorial.

“The attitude of outright rejecting lockdowns despite strong evidence that lives can be saved is unacceptable,” it said.

The two months of lockdown have already taken a heavy economic toll on the country, which registered its first negative annual GDP growth (-0.4 percent) in 68 years. However, this did not prevent the government from hiking defense spending by 12 percent in the annual budget on Friday. EFE


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