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Thursday May 14 2020

Pakistan facing milder form of coronavirus, says senior doctor

A woman covers her nose and mouth with ? scarf, as she along with others waits to receive cash from a country-wide Ehsaas Emergency Cash program in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo: Reuters

KARACHI: Pakistan is facing a milder form of the novel coronavirus, which has triggered more than 200,000 deaths around the globe, said the medical director of the Liaquat National Hospital (LNH) on Wednesday while speaking to The News.

Dr Salman Faridi said that compared to other countries such as Italy, the UK and the US, Pakistan not only has a low mortality rate but also a lower number of critically ill patients, as fewer people are on life support.

The eminent surgeon said that it appears Pakistan has a less virulent strain of the novel coronavirus. “There is a need to capitalise on this situation by improving our treatment facilities, and ensuring close coordination, monitoring, and availability of the latest anti-viral and other supportive drugs to further reduce mortality.”

Deploring the fact that no integrated plan has been devised in the country, including Sindh, to manage the pandemic, Dr Faridi suggested creating a dashboard comprising information on all the facilities available for the treatment of COVID-19 in the province.

He said the dashboard should provide information on the number of available beds in high dependency units (HDUs) and intensive care units (ICUs) as well as the availability of ventilators and other facilities to effectively deal with the health emergency.

“After the death of Dr Furqan-ul-Haq, who went from one hospital to another in search of a bed in the COVID-19 ward, there’s an urgent need for a live dashboard or portal," he said, pointing out that a dashboard would help hospitals treating coronavirus patients to stay aware of the situation at one other’s COVID-19 wards, so the seriously ill patients could be directed to the health facilities where HDUs, ICUs, beds or ventilators are available. 

He said that there should also be a universal access number accessible across the province for calling an ambulance or help in case of an emergency.

Five-stage facility

Dr Faridi said they have established a five-stage COVID-19 treatment facility at the LNH where the outpatient department (OPD), and isolation, treatment and testing services are available.

He added that the hospital’s COVID-19 OPD remains functional from 9am to 5pm for consultant physicians to screen and treat patients, while the emergency is open 24 hours a day to take in coronavirus and other patients round the clock.

“We have a separate COVID-19 treatment area where suspected patients are isolated and their tests are conducted. We have our own biosafety level 3 lab with trained and qualified staff for testing virus samples. If a patient tests positive, they’re shifted to the COVID-19 ward, while those requiring life support are put on ventilators.”

He said they have a 34-bed COVID-19 ward that will be expanded to 50 beds where they have a 12-bed ICU equipped with seven ventilators. If required, he added, they are ready to increase the number of beds and facilities in the COVID-19 treating area where they have reserved two complete floors for this purpose.

Dr Faridi said the LNH is open to all kinds of patients as OPDs of psychiatry, dentistry, gastroenterology, gynaecology, pediatrics and other specialties are being held from 9am to 5pm every day except on Sundays.

He said their surgeons and interventionists are also carrying out the necessary and emergency procedures on a daily basis to save the lives of people.

“I want to clarify that we at the Liaquat National Hospital don’t ask for the COVID-19 status of any of the patients. Our staff and healthcare providers take all precautionary measures, properly use personal protection equipment and follow the standard operating procedures while dealing with patients.”

The surgeon said that if a patient arrives with classic symptoms of the disease, they are tested for COVID-19. He added that those requiring surgery are also tested for the disease so as to prevent their staff from contracting it. However, he reiterated, nobody is denied treatment on the basis of their COVID-19 status.

Ready to train

Dr Faridi said the LNH has a pool of trained and qualified surgeons, infectious diseases experts, pulmonologists, intensivists and consultants, besides nurses and technicians, and the hospital is ready to train doctors and staff in other cities of Sindh who are treating COVID-19 patients but are not sure how to manage seriously ill patients.

He also said they are ready to train the staff of new health facilities in Karachi dealing with COVID-19 patients. Moreover, he added, the qualified staff at the LNH lab can also train technicians who collect nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal samples of suspected coronavirus patients.

The surgeon said that due to poor sample collections, several false negative and false positive cases are being reported, which have been distorting the image of labs and health facilities.

Responding to a query, he said that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, they used to recieve a large number of patients from other cities of Sindh, but these days, only 25% of the patients are visiting Karachi and the LNH for getting medical treatment due to the unavailability of inter-city transport.