A young doctor who spearheaded the fight against novel coronavirus in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), has died, the region’s spokesperson said, but did not specify whether he died of the virus or other causes. Usama Riaz’s death was confirmed on Sunday night by GB government spokesperson Faizullah Faraq. The doctor had been active in the screening of patients coming into the region from Taftan, a town which shares a border with Iran, and had been lauded for his bravery. “It is with extreme sadness that the Gilgit-Baltistan health department confirms that Usama Riaz who played a key role in the war against coronavirus has passed away,” the GB government’s information department tweeted. The department added that the doctor would be officially declared a national hero. Dr Riaz’s death could have very well been avoided. A very tense situation now prevails in GB where physicians are threatening to go on strike if equipment is not provided soon. In Italy, Dr Marcello Natali died due to shortage of new gloves and masks, taking the total tally of medical professionals dying there to 13. Doctors in the US are already ringing alarm bells, warning that a shortage of medical supplies that allow medical practitioners to safely attend to patients would be catastrophic. As thousands of healthcare workers across the country continue tirelessly to provide treatment to patients carrying a highly contagious pathogen that has affected close to 900 citizens already, it is up to the federal and provincial governments must make sure that all supplies to protect doctors and nurses from infection are in ample supply.
However, in the global war against coronavirus, they are our true heroes. Doctors, nurses, pathologists and paramedics. Ambulance drivers, medical cleaners and administrators. Hospital managers and other pillars of the desperately-strained public health system around the world. And medical researchers racing against all odds in the quest to develop a cure. In most cases, these selfless warriors have had to cut themselves off from their own families and loved one to prevent infecting them. Their extraordinary sacrifice for the sake of humanity has come at a great personal cost and deserves our unending gratitude. But gratitude alone is not sufficient. When this crisis is over, there must be a reassessment of who we value most in society and how we treat them. We need to find ways of robustly investing in what matters the most — in higher wages and better conditions for the medical fraternity, in advancing medical research and technology, in acknowledging that they are the last frontier of our modern battles.
We should learn from countries that have given their respective healthcare systems a fighting chance by doing their job so that the doctors, nurses and all those working in the field of medicine could effectively do theirs. This is the least that we owe to the brave professionals who are in the line of fire, fighting with a sense of duty to save lives at the risk of losing their own. So far, the government has been unable to actively control the spread of the virus due to poor quarantine facilities with the majority of the population not practicing self-isolation as there is no enforced lockdown in place. Bringing people to people contact to a bare minimum across the country is crucial while continuous testing has to be ramped up. This will help in arresting the rapid spread of the disease while identifying those who are affected so that they can be quarantined. Short of this, Pakistan’s already dilapidated, underfunded and ill-equipped healthcare system, will completely collapse under the wave of patients that it simply cannot accommodate.