Monday May 18, 2020
ISLAMABAD: Pakistanis were surprised to see Chinese helicopters and trucks passing through the Khunjerab Pass at an unusual time of the year in March to supply medical equipment for the Gilgit Baltistan region to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
Arshad Ayub, 22, is a student in the region. When doctors at a hospital told him that his father is infected with COVID-19, he got so scared. What more horrifying for him was that his old man's condition was worsening, but hospitals there did not have enough ventilators to give life support if his dad's health further deteriorated.
"I can't forget the agony and panic my family went through. My father was isolated at a hospital. We were isolated at home and doctors are telling us every day that they are trying to arrange the 'sophisticated medical machinery' to help my father and other possible serious patients defeat the disease, but our only concern was, what if they fail to arrange the ventilator?"
According to Faizullah Firaq, spokesperson of the Gilgit Baltistan local government, the whole region, which is home to about 1.8 million people, had only five to seven ventilators in its public hospitals, which were not enough to deal with the pandemic. Other medical supplies including masks and personal protection equipment (PPE) for the frontline medical staff were scarce and the local government was also in shortage of testing kits to identify patients.
At the request of the local government, China provided medical supplies including the much-needed ventilators.
The timely assistance gave hope to Ayub’s family.
"It was not less than a miracle for us, with the medical support my father's condition got better and now he is back to a healthy life," Ayub told Xinhua.
The local government spokesman said that the Chinese medical supplies are enough in the region's battle against the disease for a long time till they become self-sufficient of the medical equipment.
Pakistan registered its first COVID-19 patient in the end of February, and the cases saw a spike in the following months. According to the recent figures by the country's health department, Pakistan has over 43,000 confirmed cases and it registered over 900 deaths across the country.
Though health departments and hospitals were prepared to face the challenge, medical necessities, including PPEs and N95 face masks, for the frontline staff were quickly consumed and became insufficient to protect the medical staff working in screening and managing the disease at hospitals. Hundreds of them contracted the disease due to non-availability of the protection equipment in the country.
President of the Young Doctors Association of Punjab province, Salman Haseeb, who has fought in the frontline against the pandemic, told Xinhua that doctors were afraid to go on duty due to non-availability of the PPEs. "In this situation when there is a lack of necessary equipment, going to the hospital is just like going to a war front," he said.
Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad is a designated hospital to treat the coronavirus infected patients and is also one of the many hospitals in the country which got the medical donation from China to enable its frontline staff to prevent themselves from contracting the disease.
In a conversation with Xinhua, Anser Maxood, executive director of PIMS, said that not only the Chinese government but also Chinese people and companies working in Pakistan extended help to them through donations which his hospital got from the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The donations are enough to protect 4,000 medical staff in PIMS against the disease.
"All the PPEs being worn by the medical staff and health workers in PIMS are a donation from China which is a great help," said Maxood.
Pakistan is among the first to show its solidarity with China since the outbreak of COVID-19. Besides a batch of medical materials sent to China, the country's Prime Minister Imran Khan had phone talks with the Chinese leadership and President Arif Alvi has paid a visit to Beijing amid the pandemic.
Pakistan is also the first country in the world that get testing kits from China. Later on, through different channels, medical assistance and expert teams from China constantly reached Pakistan in an effort to jointly curb the spread of the pandemic in the country.
"China came with help at the time when we were facing a lot of trouble even to find ordinary surgical masks which were either not available in the local market or were being sold at very inflated prices," NDMA Chairman Lieutenant General Muhammad Afzal said.
Pakistani experts said that Pakistan and China have always supported each other at every front, and China's help in Pakistan's fight against COVID-19 is the recent example of their deep-rooted friendship.
Kalsoom Sumra, assistant professor at Centre for Policy Studies in Comsats University Islamabad, said that upon the peak of COVID-19 in China, Pakistan extended help to China but China returned the favour in a big way when the outbreak happened in Pakistan.
"By the medical donations which are still being received by Pakistan, China has not only helped Pakistan save lives of the COVID-19 patients and protected its medical staff from contracting the disease, but also won the hearts not only of the people who are directly related to the patients and the doctors but also of the whole country by showing Pakistanis once again that their Chinese brother will never leave the country alone in crisis."