No government should be blamed for a pandemic, but they should be scrutinized for how they respond to one. As the epicentre of coronavirus gradually shifts towards South Asia, it is helpful to evaluate how Pakistan can learn from the successful handling of COVID-19 from a handful of East Asian countries.
As of now, coronavirus cases have rapidly risen in Pakistan and although they are gradually starting to decline, Pakistan needs to develop indigenous healthcare policies by looking at models of other successful countries in its own region rather than accentuating on the Western mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
East Asian countries proving to be successful in their fight against COVID
Traditionally, Pakistan has always looked up to the Western Model in policy-making; often ignoring how contrasting our underlying economic, demographic, geographical and climatic features are. The successful handling of the COVID-19 crisis of East Asian countries like South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam should be considered as a feasible testbed for Pakistan to formulate sustainable COVID-19 healthcare policies.
It is estimated Pakistan’s public debt-to-GDP ratio will rise up to 89% of Gross Domestic Product by the fiscal year 2021, hence, an effective response and winning of public trust to curtail COVID-19 requires a whole-of-government approach. In Pakistan, blame-game politics and points scoring on COVID-19 is widely witnessed between the center and the provinces leading to mass confusion and frustration within the public. With Pakistan’s mounting fiscal limitations, it is essential for Khan’s government to develop their own indigenous healthcare policies by learning from countries like Thailand, whose universal public health care system is a regional, if not global, role model, with low-cost medical treatment available nearly nationwide.
Governments who executed a holistic strategy were able to win public trust and compliance. In a country like Pakistan where the literacy rate stands at 58%, educating the Pakistani public of the consequences of a pandemic is of utmost importance. Public awareness campaigns and effective intergovernmental coordination was witnessed in Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand. Leaders who made decisions based on medical and scientific evidence — deferring to their public health and medical officials — have come out on top.
Thailand taking the lead
For example, in Thailand when a physician at the royally affiliated Siriraj Hospital projected on March 26, 2020 that Thailand would have 350,000 cases and 7,000 deaths by mid-April without social distancing, Prime Minister Prayut Chanocha invoked emergency rule, centralized crisis management and phased in hard lockdown measures. Decisive leadership, transparency and effective coordination, like in Thailand and other Eastern countries towards curtailing the COVID-19 pandemic is what is visibly lacking in Pakistan.
The COVID-19 outbreak was not a ‘black-swan’ event in Pakistan. Given Pakistan’s close proximity with China, Islamabad was given ample time to prepare for a pandemic. Holistic healthcare policies and contingency plans should have been devised beforehand to safeguard our fragile healthcare system. Leaders who shunned the topic away and starved their public health system of resources have suffered. Governments like that of Singapore and Vietnam that were prepared with a pandemic response plan and listened to epidemiologists and virologists have fared better in handling the coronavirus.
A unified timely action coupled with public compliance and consistent healthcare policies towards understanding the devastating impact of coronavirus have been the reason for the success of many East Asian countries, while many Western countries have floundered resulting in their healthcare systems to be overwhelmed due to sharp spikes in patient numbers and increasing demands for ventilators etc. The success of these governments in flattening the curve is the result of proactive government administration, offering key lessons to Pakistan with whom they share somewhat similar ‘developing world’ features.
Health crises are not bounded by wealth
Coronavirus is a reminder that health crises are not bounded by wealth, ethnicity or class. More notably, it is a reminder that health security should be given top priority. It is essential for Pakistan to strengthen its capacity, develop health workforce and infrastructure for key public health issues. Pakistan has been following the western model of healthcare given its colonial past, leadership orientation and aid driven economic setup. It would be in the interest of Khan’s government, which is keen on pursuing foreign and economic diplomacy with East Asian countries to also study their successful healthcare policies in order to develop a more effective healthcare system.
Every country needs an indigenous healthcare system and policy. East Asia offers a more sustainable framework to be considered by Islamabad for crafting and instituting its anti-COVID-19 policy and strengthening its fragile healthcare system which is already overburdened. The litmus test right now is for the Khan government to devise a unified strategy and ensure an effective inter-ministerial coordination to win the public’s trust against fighting COVID-19, a pandemic which has already enveloped 213 countries and killed more than 471,027 people worldwide. It’s high time for Islamabad to rethink its health management system and look towards the East for inspiration, policy and implementation.
Narmeen Fayyaz is a Political Economy Research analyst based in Islamabad. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.