The continued fight

Pakistan did not meet the WHO’s standard ratios for health staff even in normal circumstances

Editorial May 11, 2020

Much has been written about how medical professionals are the real heroes in the global fight against the novel coronavirus. These valiant and selfless professionals continue to play a critical role in saving lives across the globe even as infections barrel towards the four million mark. However, the situation is now beginning to take a toll on these frontline fighters. The International Council for Nurses has sounded the alarm that an estimated 90,000 nurses in some 30 countries are infected with the deadly virus while as many as 260 medical staffers have succumbed to the disease primarily for want of personal protective equipment (PPE) in a desirable quantity. This is a conservative estimate and the real number is believed to be far higher.

In what should be described as a mere lip service, the authorities never cease to appreciate the central role of doctors and nurses in the fight against the rampaging virus, but they don’t do much in practice to cater to their needs. A very few talk about the sufferings of these soldiers in this conflict and what is the impact of losing even one of them. The standard ratio that the World Health Organization recommends for doctors and nurses is one per 1,000 people and one per 14 people respectively. It means that if we lose even one doctor, it will shift the burden of around 1,000 patients on other doctors while nurses will have to share the burden for an additional 14 patients.

In places like Pakistan, the situation is even more pathetic. The country did not meet the WHO’s standard ratios for health staff even in normal circumstances. With a surge in the number of patients infected with the coronavirus, our health infrastructure is already overloaded. Some district administrations have issued open calls for doctors and nurses to join their quarantine centers. According to the Pakistan Medical Association, more than 650 medical practitioners have been infected with the virus across the country while 10 doctors and three nurses have succumbed. This has created a shortage of staff to deal with the patients. The federal and provincial governments must immediately move to meet this genuine demand of our medical professionals or risk losing this battle.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2020.

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