A worker wearing a Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit (C) sprays disinfectant while other workers tag cross signs on chairs for social distancing at the Capital University of Science and Technology in Islamabad on September 10, 2020, following the government's annoucement about reopening educational institutes starting from September 15, nearly six months after the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. PHOTO BY AAMIR QURESHI /AFP via Getty Images
The COVID-19 surge in many parts of the world is disturbing.
Europe has seen massive spikes, notably in France, Spain and the UK. Even Canada is grappling with rising numbers a second time, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.
South of the border, the number of deaths has topped 200,000. But among all these pandemic woes there have been a number of countries with success stories, and the rest of the world can learn from their experiences.
Of the seven nations that, according to the WHO, have so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, the case of Pakistan is particularly remarkable. Although it too is experiencing a mild surge, the country has seen nowhere near the devastation experienced by its closest neighbours: India to the east and Iran to the west.
Pakistan’s population is young, but that may not be its only advantage. There is also speculation that Pakistanis have a natural immunity toward viruses, having lived in an environment that is full of pathogens. While that could also be said for India, where the situation now appears uncontrollable, Pakistan has taken a few measures that the WHO has applauded.
It is ironic that a developing country has been able to deal with a crisis like this better than many first world nations. Could it be that it is simply more used to handling disasters? In this case, Pakistan’s misfortunes have proved to be its strengths.
Pakistan is one of just three countries where polio still strikes the vulnerable — the others being Afghanistan and Nigeria. Polio eradication has been a challenge because so many Pakistanis are illiterate and therefore ignorant of the real causes.
They may refuse vaccination, often in favour of prayer or folk cures. Although Pakistan has also failed to deliver medical assistance in areas where it is most needed, due to its poor health infrastructure, it has vowed to eradicate polio within the coming two years.
It has established systems to track the infection, making meticulous records of affected families within various community clusters. There also are now many female community health workers who administer the polio vaccine.
The WHO reports that Pakistan has used these existing systems to also keep tabs on the coronavirus. Director Tedros Ghebreyesus said that “Community health workers who have been trained to go door to door vaccinating children for polio have been utilized for surveillance, contact tracing and care.”
Pakistan has been cordoning off infected areas in targeted “smart lockdowns”. Traffic in and out of such clusters is greatly restricted. Other countries, like Vietnam, Taiwan and South Korea have also used existing infrastructure, having the experience of other viruses like SARS.
While such measures may be more challenging in Western nations, where people cherish individual freedom, New Zealand also restricted traffic for residents when the epidemic peaked in the Auckland area.
It is still quite puzzling that in Canada we cannot emulate such examples, especially where numbers are rising in leaps and bounds, such as Ontario. Tests may reflect an accurate picture on the ground, but tighter controls on movement may also be beneficial while tapping into existing infrastructure, especially when half the cases in Ontario cannot be traced to other contacts.
It is a rare honour for Pakistan that it can teach something to the more enlightened and progressive outside world, but its citizens can be proud of its low case count so far.