Pakistan’s strategic response to COVID-19 has been extraordinary. The foundation of all efforts has been based on one word: Empathy.
PM Imran Khan’s perspective from the onset has been clear – focus on the 80% while ensuring service delivery to all. It is exactly this lens that has placed Pakistan’s preparedness & response as a case study of crisis management for the world. The approach taken under the Prime Minister’s leadership & steered by Dr. Faisal Sultan is simple: Strategic over reactionary.
A holistic strategy covering various socioeconomic & medical aspects has been supported by fast on-ground implementation. It has been made possible by the intent to save lives and livelihoods, and relentless effort to serve from the policy making offices to the front-line workers. This has been facilitated by NCOC, the central command & operations centre setup under Asad Umar Sb to ensure effective resource utilisation on a national level. It is an example of the impact of data-driven decision making for transmission reduction, service provision.
Pre-COVID, 50 Million Pakistanis lived below the poverty line with an unemployment rate of 5.8%. A complete lockdown would have had a devastating socioeconomic effect in terms of increased poverty, unemployment, hunger, out-of-school children & more.
India is an example of that.
Implementation of data-driven smart lockdowns despite opposition is an applause worthy decision, has been lauded globally & adopted by EU countries. The benefits have been many – quicker return to work for daily wagers, economic activity for SMEs & curbed transmission. On the medical side, capacity of existing infrastructure has been expanded & designated hospital wards, quarantine centres & testing labs have been set up across the country. Moreover, the door- to-door testing & tracing facility built on the polio system presents a policy lesson.
Dr. Yasmin Rashid has proven to be an inspirational woman as she leads health measures in Punjab by example. Overall, 6 Million+ vaccination doses have been administered to date with the daily capacity increasing to 300,000. The vaccinated population is still as low as 2-3% against the global average of 16% but it is increasing at a positive rate.
Dedicated health helpline, SMS-based vaccination registration & automated updates have facilitated the masses. Additionally, the demographic based vaccination system has avoided large-scale mishaps & mismanagement. Referring to social welfare, as per early estimates 10 Million more people would fall below the poverty line and 1.4 Million jobs would be lost (limited restrictions) because of the pandemic. Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program led by Dr. Sania Nishtar has been essential for millions’ survival. To date, 15 Million households have been provided financial assistance of PKR 12,000 under the program. This has helped in fulfilment of basic daily needs including food. Technology has played a significant role in ensuring efficiency & transparency in cash disbursement.
On the economic front, a relief package was announced to support the SME sector that contributes 30% to the GDP, special incentives were extended to the construction sector and further facilitation by the provincial government. Equating 2.9% of the GDP, the relief seems insufficient but essential for economic survival & ultimate recovery; Outcome: estimated 4.8% GDP growth in Fiscal Year 2021-22. Nonetheless, the SME sector needs continued support to revive. Local innovative measures e.g. production of i-Live & #CanSino shows there's an opportunity in every situation.
Pakistan has played an important role in sensitising global institutions & developed countries towards challenges being faced locally & by similar economies in COVID-19 response. Subsequently, help has been received from allies including China & institutions for example, World Bank. In the past year, we've seen heroes - front-line workers taking risk for safeguarding others, NGOs stepping up for relief work & the government working round the clock. Prime Minister Imran Khan and team have set the direction - it's now up to us to act responsibly for a strengthened Pakistan.