A Pakistani doctor’s tale: Why more ventilators alone are not the answer

The coronavirus has triggered a global surge in demand for ventilators and masks worldwide. The challenge posed by the virus is forcing companies across a variety of industries to innovate. For example, car manufacturers in the United States such as General Motors (GM) are now required by law to manufacture life-saving medical equipment, while fashion houses such as Gucci and Prada are working to produce face masks. Pakistan has also ordered nearly 3,000 ventilators to deal with cases of the coronavirus. While there is a clear need for such devices, as a practicing emergency room (ER) physician I can tell ...

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Assessing the long term impact of COVID-19

Temporary actions and policies during times of crisis become die-hard habits in the post crisis normalcy. People, governments, and corporations adopt certain temporary and desperate measures to deal with the situation at hand but later those half measures become full and achieve a permanence that hardly anyone is able to predict in times of crisis.  When the 2008 financial crisis happened, several companies around the world laid off many employees in order to cut costs. Many went bankrupt. During the crisis, many companies made their employees do more work for the same emolument and the workforce agreed to put up with ...

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Navigating the media chessboard amidst COVID-19

One of the fundamental things to understand about COVID-19 is that nobody in the world has a crystal ball that can accurately explain and predict the impact of the virus. Governments, weak and strong, have been left scratching their heads as their healthcare systems buckle under the pressure. As the total number of global cases approaches the one million mark, the machinery that regulates global economies has halted. For Pakistan, difficult decisions were made to lock down certain parts of the country, with a focus on ensuring the mitigation of impact for particularly vulnerable groups, including daily wage workers.  The ...

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Media sensationalism in the age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak has thrown the world into a state of fear and uncertainty. Hence, countries today are banking on their doctors to save lives, not on their armies or their multinational companies. In Pakistan, many doctors and medical personnel do not have access to personal protective equipment (PPEs) to prevent them from being infected by coronavirus patients while performing their duties. Yet, by putting their lives at risk, doctors across the country are bravely fighting this war against COVID-19. However, despite this, there remain a few journalists, television channels and publications which, just for the sake of ratings, are dispensing news based on a limited understanding of medical ...

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Pakistan can’t afford a political crisis during a pandemic

Within a fragile and deceptively undulating ‘democratic’ landscape, politics and politicians in Pakistan have consistently maintained a rather adversarial character. In fact, at any given point in the erratic democratic history of the country, all leading national political parties have shown their tenacious adherence to adversarial politics. Perhaps, this is the only kind of mainstream politicking that party leaders are capable of doing in Pakistan. What unraveled in the wake of COVID-19 crisis was no different, a severely adamant inability of the country’s political leadership to conduct consensual politics. Spain or Senegal, no matter how rich or poor the economy, presently ...

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Why Pakistan must ban congregational prayers during the COVID-19 crisis

Many years ago, I read Christina Lamb’s famous but controversial book titled Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy. Although her book, touched upon various facets of the Pakistani society, it focused on the role of religion. She made two key arguments. First that Pakistan was trapped by the need to adhere to a “true” version of Islam, which impeded its progress. She wrote, “The more the country strives for what its religious scholars see as true Islam, the less equipped it becomes for running a twentieth-century state, and the more it is forced to watch once-lagging competitors such ...

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On the front lines of the coronavirus battle: A Pakistani doctor’s tale

If we were in the middle of a military war, a media campaign against active-duty soldiers would be considered ‘distasteful’ at best, if not outright ‘seditious’. On March 16th, two doctors in Islamabad were shifted into isolation for treating a patient suspected of COVID-19 (coronavirus) infection. These doctors who put the patient on the ventilator were not equipped with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). Basic PPEs may include face masks, surgical gloves, aprons, and gowns. In a different war, these doctors would have medals being pinned to their chest. But in this crucial war for public health and safety, such healthcare professionals ...

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The modern day slaves of Umerkot’s brick kilns

Before the sun has even risen, 47-year-old Laali Bai, a mother of five from Umerkot, begins her daily commute on foot towards the brick kiln, braving the often harsh morning air with the rest of her family members. She has been working at the kiln for the last five years, earning a daily wage of merely Rs500. Bai is visibly suffering from a skin allergy that she has most likely contracted from the soil that is used for making bricks. “I work for 12 hours a day and earn a mere Rs500. My family members and I use the soil to make bricks. ...

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The case for Imran Khan’s coronavirus speech

In most of my conversations about the political state of affairs in Pakistan, the consensus is often on two topics: a) critique of the performance of the Imran Khan-led government over the past few months, and b) an appreciation for Khan’s oratory skills after most, if not all, broadcasted speeches. In an age of populist politics, political divisiveness, online echo-chambers, there are few global leaders who have the unique capability to make people listen to them beyond the divides of politics, class, and religion. After listening to his speeches, I often go online and find people mentioning how they fall ...

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Should Pakistan instate a travel ban against coronavirus emergent regions?

In its final year in office, the current Trump administration has instated a 30-day travel ban extending to Europe and to its ally the United Kingdom (UK), supplementing the already existing bans on China and South Korea. Blaming the large number of new clusters in the United States (US) as a result of travel from Europe, President Donald Trump moved to present a resolute US front against the rapid spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared to be a global pandemic. On the other side of the Atlantic, here in the UK, Prime Minister ...

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