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Access To Medical Services In Pakistan During COVID-19

It was only perhaps a month ago that we started to climb “the curve” and make our way into the much anticipated “peak” when the gravity of the situation truly hit me; we are living through a pandemic that will go down in history, and we may not be here to narrate the story. It felt almost ridiculous to be worrying about getting hospital beds or managing to find the right medical resources to fight this battle, if and when I was ever to be a victim of this deadly virus. After all, I’m the child of a leading eye consultant in Karachi, I come from an upper middle class background, I have seen, and perhaps for years to come, will see many hospitals that have never denied me basic healthcare facilities. Was I really in a position to be worried about something I knew I wasn’t going to be deprived of? The answer was no. No I wasn’t, and frankly, it seemed almost selfish and narcissistic to be worried about me when millions around me were struggling for the same. For those reading this, I’m sure it won’t come as a shock to you when I say Pakistan is poorly equipped to fight this disease. And while I would love to dive into the many reasons why, for starters battling the mindset of our fellow citizens and their head strong belief that this is nothing but a “saazish”, I will stick to what I have been asked to talk about; Our lack of medical services for the masses, and the incompetence of the existing ones. Let’s take, for example, the beginning weeks of the spread of this virus. The test cost Rs. 8,000, a ridiculous amount for the majority of Pakistan’s population to meet, since they earn less than the minimum daily wage. Testing was initially only being conducted in limited hospitals of the likes of Aga Khan, Indus hospital, and Civil hospital. Slowly, testing facilities began to increase, not to mention after the terrifying scare that hospitals were running out of testing kits and were thus turning away potential coronavirus patients. However, is adequate coronavirus testing (if we can even call it adequate considering millions of our population still remains deprived of this basic facility) enough to fight this virus? It’s not, especially when the words “POSITIVE” glare back at you from your phone screen, reminding you of all the places you will have to go to be granted a doctor’s consultation at most.

It’s easy for people like you and me to sit behind our laptop screens and critique our government and its incapability to provide healthcare facilities. Yet, how many of us know what it feels like to lose a loved one to this virus simply because we don’t have the money to pay for the 6 figure hospital bill. Most of our population is unaware that they are carrying this virus, and even when they do get a glimpse of this harsh reality, what other option do they have? They need hospitals and doctors to help them which costs money, money that they don’t have, money that can only be earned by sweat, blood and tears at another job that barely passes the legal minimum wage. They can’t afford to take days off of work, because they can’t afford healthcare, and thus the vicious cycle of the spread of this virus and the millions of innocent lives lost to it continues.

However, what can be done by people like you and me? Should we go out and protest on the streets of this country, demanding for the right to live? Or should we continue to sit at home and isolate ourselves, not just from the world, but from the harsh reality of people dying on the streets. There is no straight solution to this problem, there are instead ideas. Ideas that we can hope to build the foundation of affordable healthcare.

Let’s start by aiding that which is already there. Giving out rations and donations is no doubt a great way to help the poor get through these trying times. However, it isn’t the solution to fighting this virus if it comes knocking at their doors. We provide them with the necessary medical facilities to survive this virus. I think we can all manage to distribute a few strips of Panadol, some bottles of vitamin C, and even antibiotics if and when need be, at least to our house help. While this isn’t the best substitute to hospitals and healthcare facilities, it can act as a sort of support for when the time actually comes.

Next, we must support organizations that are doing what they can to provide home testing or consultation during this time. Support and donate to places like Chughtai Lab and Essa lab that are providing home testing services. Continue to donate, be it a 100 rupee note, to foundations like Edhi, Chiipa, and Indus. Hospitals are running out of beds and PPE equipment. Every penny counts during this time to allow the existing healthcare services to function at their full capacity. Support tele clinics that are operating by trying to create as much awareness about them as one can. Here is an example of a trusted and reliable tele clinic that has recently started operating. Its brochure in Urdu must specifically be advertised to reach the greater part of the population.

I believe something we can all practice and in fact, should adopt, is empathy. We as a country lack the ability to empathize amongst ourselves. Doctors, surgeons, hospitals and medical resources are criticized on the smallest inconvenience. Their “incompetence”, or as the party on the receiving end likes to put it, is waved around social media, with the threat of making it viral looming around with it. While watching the lack of resources and the doctor’s inability to save our loved ones is hurtful, and in most cases infuriating, screaming in hospital passages and recording videos of hospital staff trying to cool the matter down, helps only in worsening the situation, not making it better in the slightest. We must understand that our doctors and hospitals are victims to the same forces of oppression and power that we fight against. They are on our side, trying to help save as many lives as they can, but alas, failing only to the will of God.

I will end this piece with nothing more than a request, a request that I believe does not require much of you. Please do not overburden our healthcare system. Chances are if you’re reading this then you’re probably also in a position of affording basic healthcare and getting in touch with a general physician. We need to protect our resources and prevent them from running out for the masses. A single cough throughout the day is not a matter of concern. A feeling of slight lethargy is not cause for concern. Please do not rush to your nearest hospital, demanding to be tested when your symptoms and condition proves otherwise. Perhaps the greatest contribution we can make to our people and our healthcare system is by staying home. I know it has been said, almost too many times if you ask me, but please, stay home. I promise you, the simple act of isolating ourselves can do leaps and bounds and hopefully prevent in overburdening our healthcare system, leaving more to be received by the masses.

To donate to the above-mentioned organizations contact/visit

  • Indus hospital (money/blood)

  • Chuhgtai Lab (blood)

For testing contact/visit:

For free home consultation call:

  • 0331-2677360

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