New cases of coronavirus have started surfacing in different parts of Pakistan and it has raised few questions such as; what led to the spread of virus from Taftan to other parts of the country? Was there a proper system for screening and isolation of pilgrims at the Taftan quarantine camp? Who is responsible for the outbreak of the virus in Pakistan?
The Federal government is under huge criticism after it has failed to provide adequate facilities to the provincial governments and specially at Taftan border Balochistan, as the pilgrims coming from Iran were not properly isolated at the quarantine camp in Taftan where they were kept initially. However, the absence of coronavirus diagnostic kits at the camp also made it difficult to determine who all were infected with the virus.
According to reports for more than a week, the camp was not visited by any doctor. The medical staff at the camp which did not comprise of any doctors took temperatures of the pilgrims initially but did not take their blood samples due to the absence of diagnostic kits. As per media reports many letters were written to the DG Health who in turn asked the Balochistan government’s health secretary to take action against doctors who were sent to the camp but failed to reach there. The diagnostic kits arrived late at the camp and blood samples of the pilgrims were sent to a centre in Quetta for testing.
Federal government is also claiming that they had directed NDMA and PDMA to deal with the issue. However, the fact cannot be ignored that PDMA has no facilities and equipment to confront such serious issue. Absence of proper facilities is one of the main reason that situation is getting worst and is slipping out of government hands.
The failure of PDMA was greatly exposed when a local journalist Hadi Khan shared several videos with our correspondent, which went viral on social media showing the poor status of quarantined facilities. On other hand according to local people living near Taftan, the Balochistan government was very quick in its response to contain the virus initially but it could not capitalize on it due to undue criticism by opposition parties in Balochistan Assembly and sluggish response of federal government. The leaders of the opposition parties also alleges failure of the federal government to control the border along Iran as the main reason for the spread of the disease in the country.
Health sector around the country has been badly exposed as the provinces are not able to deal with such issues on their own and needs adequate support of centre. But after 18th Amendment, the Health and Education Sectors were transferred to provinces and at the same time major revenue collection was also shifted to provinces. Some paras of the controversial 18th Amendment including the transfer of Health and education to the provinces have always been criticized by the concern experts as these sectors cannot be handled appropriately by the provinces on their own due to lack of budget and facilities. Outbreak of corona virus has greatly exposed this issue and the critics have been proven right in this regard.
A new controversy was sparked when few PTI leaders said that health was a provincial matter under the 18th Amendment; however, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) argued that border management falls under the Centre’s domain. At the end it is important to mention that it is the responsibility of the federal government to take the lead and formulate a national response to the crisis. Despite the sharp increase in the number of cases, there is still no effective coordination between the federal and provincial governments. Surely, this has contributed to the failure to contain the problem.
In order to avoid further outbreak, the federal government should act responsibly and should take all the stake holders on board and take some tough decisions. Besides the other stackholders the government should think beyond their political goals and must consult with the rest of the opposition parties to tackle the issue without making it more challenging. When the dust settles and the corona virus endemic is over, all political parties must to sit and finalize necessary amendments to make our health department more efficient.