Dr Usama Riaz is being hailed as a hero for bravely risking his life to treat patients with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Even though the 26-year-old doctor was not provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) by the government, he kept treating patients. Dr Riaz was part of a team of 10 in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) which was screening pilgrims returning from Iraq and Iran. Last weekend, he woke up unwell and couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. He was rushed to a hospital and put on a ventilator, but still died a few days later. “[Dr] Usama [Riaz] proved himself to be a real hero by sacrificing his life to save others,” said G-B Information Minister Shams Mir. Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider Khan has since announced that Dr Riaz will be awarded the state’s highest official award, “Nishan-e-Kashmir”. He also announced salary bonuses for all doctors and paramedics in the state.
There are already over 1,400 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Pakistan, with the number having tripled in the last week. A broken healthcare system and lack of PPE has left doctors at even higher risk than normal. Dr Asfandyar Khan of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad said, “It is like suicide to treat patients without protection.” National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) chief Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal recently said the federal government has procured 12,500 pieces of PPE and will send these to hospitals. Still, it remains to be seen whether this is adequate. Also, the country only has 1,700 ventilators in public hospitals and another 600 in the private sector, according to Afzal, who said an order has been placed for 800 more.
As AJK PM Haider said, “Doctors and paramedical staff are leading the war against Covid-19”. We must all laud their work. But more than plaudits, we must all as citizens come together to demand that those on the frontlines of this war against an invisible enemy be given the proper equipment to fight it with. The doctors are our army in this war. We can’t just tell them to go and die on the battlefield because we aren’t willing to equip them.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 29th, 2020.