By Yasir Habib Khan –
Pakistan is most welcoming land for the invasion of deadly diseases and viruses. Lack of pre-preparedness activities, criminal negligence and poor infrastructure are ever green supportive factors
Despite government’s rebuff, Ebola’s incursion looms dark in Pakistan as more than 100 Pakistanis working or trading in Ebola affected areas have returned to Pakistan during last two months. Nobody even health authorities know how many of them have imported Ebola and may be letting virus to spread its fatality.
Ebola freaks out with all its might when Pakistan’s first suspected patient, Zulfiqar working at Togolese Republic in West Africa, affected area from Ebola, came back to Pakistan on November 16 and died on November 25. His mysterious death sounded doom in spite of initial reports testifying the demise not hit by Ebola but by Dengue. It will take time to surface the facts as samples taken from his blood and sent to Germany would reach back after some weeks.
Pakistan is most welcoming land for the invasion of deadly diseases and viruses. Lack of pre-preparedness activities, criminal negligence and poor infrastructure are ever green supportive factors. Dengue virus that claimed many lives in recent years has been an eye-opener.
A senior official in Civil Aviation Authority said that Ebola counters formed at airports were practically for showoff. They appeared operational during the government official’s visit. “We witnessed many passengers from African countries that landed and went out of Airports without being screened out,” he added and said “I proposed health ministry to enforce genuine Ebola plan by teaming up health officials and the immigration officer at Ebola counter to ensure screening of every person.”
Meanwhile, a number of airlines are not coming up to the directives of national (Personal Declaration of Health and Origin Rule), and international requirements (International Health regulations 2005, International Civil Aviation Organisation Regulation) of collecting information on passengers’ health status. “Unless health ministry and the immigration department pear up to work closely, Ebola epidemic may hit at any time,” official opined.
Ebola has all potential to impact Pakistan with rampant killing spree as government authorities, health ministry and other apparatus, that must have alerted to deal any untoward situation, are either indulged in traditional lethargy or enjoying deep slumber.
Towering claims chanted by government in relation with Installation of possible system at Airports and other entry points, medical’s pre and post preparations, quarantine wards in Hospitals, training for doctors and paramedical staff and public awareness are just an eyewash.
Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) even any public or private hospital have no medical paraphernalia to diagnose, if anybody skeptically contract Ebola virus. Misfortunately, Pakistan has no lab facility to detect Ebola.
The best laboratory to detect Ebola contagious virus is the Bio Safety Level 4 (BSL 4). It is available in America, Europe and India. Pakistan is deprived of BSL 4 so far. Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) officer Dr. Salman highlighted that Pakistan did not have Bio Safety Level 4 Laboratory so far though current year it got the facilities of Bio Safety Level 3. If needed, facility is in place to send samples of affected Ebola patient to foreign countries, he added.
World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Pakistan Dr. Michel Thieren confirmed lack of facility of BSL 4 in Pakistan. However, he said that WHO and Pakistan government were on same page to counter deadly disease.
According to the World Health Organisation’s Global Alert and Response Situation Report, 13,052 cases and 4,818 deaths have been reported due to Ebola so far. Although the virus is still concentrated in three countries, a few cases have been confirmed from other five countries i.e. Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain and the US.
In an attempt to prevent Ebola’s inroad in the country, some officials in Health Ministry put forth a suggestion to ban on travellers from Ebola virus infested countries to Pakistan. However, recommendations were not entertained by government.
Recently same voice was raised by President, Pakistan Society of Microbiology, Prof Shahana Urooj Kazmi who asked government to put travel embargo in this regard. She urged that government must keep travellers from Ebola virus countries in quarantine for 21 days.
As Ebola virus spreads through bats and pigs, authority concerned is highly recommended to conduct serology surveys in the country. She demanded for training of medical staff with protective gadgets.
Sources in health department revealed that Ebola virus is feared to have made some inroads due to frequent movement of people to the African countries to Pakistan in connection with trade and transit, etc. Dr Michel Thieren also says that since Ebola virus is spreading faster across the world, Pakistan is also at a high risk of it.
The Punjab Chief minister Shahbaz Sharif also took serious view of the issue in a meeting to combat suspected flow of virus. In this regard a steering committee has been set up to formulate national policy and response.
The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) has already sent an advisory to the Islamabad capital territory (ICT) administration, the Capital Development Authority and the chief secretaries of all provinces to take precautionary measures against the Ebola disease.
Ebola is learnt to be a severe acute viral illness with sudden fever, intense weakness, muscles pain, headache and sore throat. This followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, impaired kidney and liver functioning. In some cases, both internal and external bleeding also starts.
Nevertheless, situation conducive for Ebola outbreak, Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) Vice Chancellor Prof Javed Akram was of opinion that Ebola seemed to be similar to HIV had not been endemic in Pakistan but he called upon complete screening of people coming from West Africa at airports.
The writer is a journalist based in Lahore