By Asif Shahzad
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani doctor who screened suspected coronavirus patients died on Sunday after testing positive for the virus, highlighting the danger to physicians who have threatened to strike unless access to protection equipment improves.
Dr Osama Riaz, who was screening pilgrims who had returned to Pakistan from Iran, tested positive on Friday, the top health official in the country’s northern Gilgit province, Shah Zaman, told Reuters by phone, adding he had subsequently died.
Pakistan, which borders Iran and China, two of the most affected countries, has reported three deaths and 658 infected patients, the highest number in South Asia.
With a broken healthcare system and the world’s sixth-largest population of 208 million people, Pakistan remains in danger of a large scale spread of the virus, experts have warned.
Besides Riaz a couple of more doctors have also shown symptoms, officials say.
“We request the government to immediately provide us personal protection equipment,” Dr Asfandyar Khan, president of staff at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences in Islamabad, told a news conference on Friday.
“It is like suicide to treat patients without protection,” he said, adding: “If infection spreads in hospitals, believe me no person will be ready to touch any patient.” He threatened doctors would stop work if they and other healthcare staff aren’t given necessary equipment by Monday.
Pakistan’s health minister Zafar Mirza held a meeting with doctors’ representatives on Saturday. “Health workforce is my first priority,” he said on Twitter.
The chief of Pakistan’s national disaster management department Lt. Gen. Muhammad Afzal said on Friday that 12,500 pieces of personal equipment had been procured. His spokesman Saqib Mumtaz said on Sunday the kits had been sent to hospitals.
Ventilator shortage is another issue.
“We have 1,700 ventilators in public hospitals and another 600 in the private sector,” said Afzal, adding an order had been made to procure 800 more.
He said an order for 200,000 N95 masks and 100,000 kits to test the virus had also been placed to enhance the country’s capacity to cater to 900,000 people.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan; Editing by David Holmes)