By Syed Raza Hassan

KARACHI (Reuters) – Pakistan’s biggest charity, famous for its emergency services for the poor, is kitting staff out in rain coats and rubber boots in the battle against the coronavirus as it can’t get hold of proper personal protective equipment, the organization says.

Pakistan has reported the highest number of coronavirus infections in South Asia, with 1,179 cases and nine deaths, but health experts say there is a lack of public awareness about the virus and the cash-strapped government is ill-prepared to tackle it.

The Edhi Foundation has for decades stepped in to help when government services fail communities and it runs the country’s largest ambulance service.

Now it has had to train dozens of staff on how to handle suspected coronavirus patients. But providing them with proper protection is a problem given a nationwide shortage of the equipment.

“We’ve compromised on certain things and use alternatives,” Faisal Edhi, head of the Edhi Foundation, told Reuters at his office in Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, on Thursday.

“Full aprons are in short supply in the market.”

He said he was confident the raincoats would work just as well.

Doctors in the capital, Islamabad, last week threatened to go on strike over a lack of protective equipment in hospitals.

The health ministry has acknowledged some problems with facilities and shortages of equipment to tackle the virus and officials have said they are importing personal protection equipment from China.

Edhi said his organisation was getting dozens of calls a day from people worried that they or their relatives were infected with the coronavirus.

“We advise them to self-isolate and separate the utensils,” he said.

(This refile corrects spelling of first name of head of aid group, paragraph five)

(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan; Editing by Gibran Peshimam, Robert Birsel)