Pakistan’s first coronavirus death exposes nation’s vulnerability
PESHAWAR: Last week, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported the first death from the novel coronavirus in Pakistan. The patient, Saadat Khan, had returned from Saudi Arabia earlier this month and tested positive on March 18. He died the same day.
However, he may not have been the only victim of the virus that is rapidly spreading through the country of 220 million people.
On March 9, Khan joined more than 2,000 people in a celebration of his return from Umrah, where many attendees embraced him. He also spent time at home with his 12 family members. All of those people were exposed to the risk of catching the virus, which can prove deadly, from Khan.
The virus has already infected over 317,000 people worldwide, and killed more than 13,000.
The number of confirmed cases in Pakistan has soared to more than 800 from 22 last week, largely driven by a wave of pilgrims returning from Iran who Pakistani authorities said were inadequately tested and improperly isolated. At least four people have died from the disease in Pakistan in the past week.
Thousands of people now need to undergo the slow process of retesting, and authorities fear the number of cases could surge in the coming days.
Health experts say there is a lack of public awareness in Pakistan about the virus and that the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle its spread. A shortage of quarantine facilities and testing labs have also hampered efforts to effectively deal with high-risk cases.
In Sindh, Pakistan’s hardest-hit province, the situation is already grim, said Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the head of department for infectious diseases at Indus Hospital in Karachi. She said that the few hospitals equipped to handle Covid-19 cases in Karachi are either close to capacity or have shut their doors because they can’t handle the influx of suspected cases.
“We’re likely to have a very big outbreak no matter what we do now,” she said. “And we will not be equipped to handle the numbers. There will be breakdowns at many levels.”
Better border controls and quarantine measures should have been instituted a lot earlier, she said. “I think the cat’s now out of the bag.”
Zafar Mirza, Pakistan’s health minister, who said last week that some of Pakistan’s quarantine facilities had not been “ideal”, did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. The provincial health minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also did not respond to a request for comment.
Reuters interviewed three doctors involved in the case, as well as four people from Khan’s village, and reviewed medical case notes detailing his travel history. Together, they provide a picture of Khan’s last days, and illustrate why the South Asian nation is rapidly becoming the latest hotbed of the fast-spreading disease. - Reuters