Islamabad: Most Muslim majority countries have avoided the large scale catastrophic outbreak. Pakistan is a remarkable example of data driven, coordinated and focused response probably the best in low and middle income countries, said Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta while addressing COMSTECH online webinar on response to COVID-19.
COVID-19 is an existential threat to the world. Twenty and half million cases and close to 750 thousand deaths have been reported worldwide and this figure will be one million before the end of this year, he predicted. This pandemic has affected every geography even places where we have very little data from. In Pakistan public sector spent over 20 million dollars on testing alone between March and now, he mentioned.
Dr. Bhutta pointed out that Muslim community have unique attributes and some protective factors as well. Geographic and geo-political clustering does protect and sometimes expose them but there are common socio-cultural practices like Ablution for prayers do have standard sanitation and hygiene. Dietary restrictions have some level of dietary protection against consumption of agents which might be risk for infectious diseases, he mentioned.
He also highlighted the risk factors like communal practices and behaviors, religious celebrations and gatherings that were major factors in the initial spread of the virus because protective strategies had not been implemented. In the Islamic world, areas of conflict and insecurity, vaccine hesitancy and gender norms and practices are major risks of health related concerns.
Authoritarian regimes responded better than the democratic societies. Many countries in Europe, not only UK and US have really not done as well, as one would image as others have done in the world, he noted.
Pakistan is much better than others in the region. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh seem to have flatten the curve in terms of cases and case fatalities. We are indeed beginning to see reduction in local transmission. Overall case positivity rate is around 4%.
Severity of illness related to COVID-19 has gone down in Pakistan and if it remains well in the next two to three weeks while we will pass through the exposures during Eid ul Adha and Muharram then we might be able to say that we have been able to get over this effectively, he hoped.
He mentioned that to predict the future of the pandemic we have to rely on modeling, modeling is extremely important to predict where this pandemic is going. We have done it for Pakistan we are doing it for South Asia, and we can do it for the OIC member states if there is interest across the region and COMSTECH could play a role in this, he suggested.
Much is still unknown about the disease. It is likely to persist well into 2021 and possibly 2022. We have to live with this pandemic for many months and the prediction is that the things may stabilize by 2021 and may be towards the end of 2021, once people begin to learn how to live with this virus and vaccine availability, he concluded.
He appreciated COMSTECH being an apex body, for trying to put scientific effort into helping people to overcome this global challenge.
Prof. Dr. Zulfiqar A Bhutta, FRS, is founding Director, Institute for Global Health & Development, the Aga Khan University, South-Central Asia, East Africa & United Kingdom and Chair in Global Child Health & Policy, Centre for Global Child Health, The Hospital for Sick Children & University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
Programme Manager, COMSTECH