The imposed order being touted by bureaucracy as a pull factor in vaccinating the people in the province will prove to be unproductive.
Open Letter to the Chief Minister of Sindh
By Nazeer Ahmed Arijo
Honorable Syed Murad Ali Shah
When it is a matter of healthcare and life of the ordinary, shooting from the hip by those in corridors of power and authority is a common culture cultivated over the years in the country. The Sindh province is no exception. There is no denying the fact that Pakistan is faced with poor vaccine response. In crisis such as this one, cool-headed policies are needed in order to achieve desired results. Making policies without assessing the pros and cons are destined to be destructive if implemented. Unfortunately, the provincial bureaucracy in Sindh province entrusted with the responsibility of reversing the declining trend of vaccination are doing the same -making hasty decisions without giving a serious thought to implications ensued by implementing these measures . The plans based on cosmetic conclusions have neither borne fruit nor will they be fruitful in foreseeable future. The case in point is Sindh government’s recent decision of not allowing patients to be treated in OPDs at government hospitals whose attendee, the accompanying parents, or guardians are not vaccinated. The imposed order is not going to yield positive results i.e. rich vaccine response the provincial government is looking for .This misplaced policy is all set creating unimaginable troubles for the population in the province thanks to short-sighted solution sought by our policy makers. Mr. Chief Minister, a nutshell narration of the ordeal I faced on July 13, will give you the idea to grasp the gravity of the issue- which has all hallmarks of spiraling crises to be faced by the multitudes of population in the province. I took my dear father and my three-year old child to taluka hospital at Khair Muhammad Arija, the former for receiving second dose of COVID vaccine, and the latter for the check-up following his suffering from flu, fever and loss of appetite. The hospital staff entrusted with the responsibility of registering OPD patients refused making the slip citing official order of not allowing patients to be checked up at the facility whose attendees, or accompanying parents and guardians are not vaccinated. This prompted me contacting the doctor on duty, who politely excused explaining the same reasons. When I informed the doctor about my scheduled vaccination, then he advised me approaching the Medical Superintendent (MS) in order to redress the issue being highlighted. I did as was told to do. After having showed the schedule of my vaccine, which is July 30 At AKUH, I requested the MS to pass order for the checkup of the child. To my utter dismay, despite having seen the slated date of vaccination, the official concerned said, “get yourself vaccinated now, or your child goes unattended”. I protested over it saying how can a child with his grandfather vaccinated, and father scheduled to receive the first doze be denied an access to medical care? The MS said, “I have strict order from the deputy commissioner of the district concerned to implement the official line of action necessitated to roping in people for covid19 jabs “. Upon my insistence, the MS in question ordered one of the employees to ask the doctor on duty to attend the child without making entry into the register just to avoid the headache- a reference to me.
On the one hand, imagine the psychological suffering with a kid cuddled against chest, one is running from pillar to post in search of medical treatment needed, on the other the anguish arising from misbehavior meted out to the father of the child-me. His colonial tone cut me to the quick. This toxic tone does demonstrate the downright degeneration of those at the helm of public sector institutions – into colonial matters. I saw the sick sailing in the same boat-not to mention a great many people declined to be attended in the earlier day. Besides, the standard operating procedures (SOPs) prioritized by the government were flagrantly violated by none other than the majority of the employees including those working in the vaccination room .The vaccinator neither was wearing hand gloves, putting on a mask nor was he providing a sunny plast to the vaccinated in order to stem supposed blood drops. The arrogant MS is presiding over an unhygienic environment. However, the imposed order being touted by bureaucracy as a pull factor in vaccinating the people in the province will prove to be unproductive. Have a cursory look at official data made available speaking of a cold-shouldered attitude of those living in big cities supposedly the majority being educated. Islamabad, Abbotabad, Mirpur, Gilgit and Rawalpindi are the cities where 30 percent population has been vaccinated; Gujranwala, Mardan and Quetta stand at 10 percent only .Whereas in the Province of Sindh, in Karachi and Hyderabad only 16 and 14 percent of eligible population has been vaccinated respectively till June 30. The response to vaccination in rural Pakistan has been dismal; the situation is not different in Sindh.
Hardly 10 percent population has been vaccinated so far. With around 90 percent unvaccinated population, how the patients are denied access to medical treatment needed in OPDs? The closure of OPDs won’t open the door for desired vaccine drive. This poorly planned policy has deprived the deprived sections of the society of their much-needed medical care since it is the ordinary visiting those healing centers. Faced with traumatic experiences, patients have conveyed their concerns joined by the sane citizens raising their robust voice on this half-baked plan i.e. tightening the noose on the unvaccinated people through available social media forums. The health of hundreds of thousands visiting those treatment avenues has been compromised and their lives risked since purchasing private medical care is beyond their reach. This hare-brained scheme used as bait to catching those unvaccinated is akin to strangulating the sick. When I contacted a certain professor of medicine, a friend of mine working in a public sector hospital, in order to seek his input on the subject being discussed, he minced no words calling it callousness as it negatively impacted the lives of those already left on the margin.
Banning entry of public in parks, tourist spots, restaurants and wedding halls as a measure to keep coronavirus at bay is a step in the right direction under current covid19 environment accompanied by delta variant. But the shutting down of OPDs for patients as measure to enforce vaccination drive is destined to be failure. The immunological cover for the public is a praiseworthy step. Protecting people from the pandemic in question does not mean leaving some others to suffer and ultimately to be left to die at their doorsteps. What the provincial government has failed to understand so far that poor vaccine response cannot be fixed without fixing unfounded fears/myths minted and circulated, which are at play creating Hamlet like dilemma “To be or not be vaccinated. (Please read my recently written detailed column covering folklore surrounding to covid19 vaccine titled “Sanity demands fixing the two pandemics “appeared in this space). The major myths attached to COVID vaccine are: the vaccine is aimed at making people infertile in order to diffuse population bomb; a chip is installed to monitor movement; the vaccine producer countries intoxicated with hate of Muslims, the vaccines supplied to the Pakistan are filled with a pigs’ urine, the vaccinated area becoming magnetic catching magnets as well as producing enough current to light a bulb, diminishing sexual desire, and last but not the least, a hoax attributed to a Nobel Laureate saying those vaccinated will die within two years. These myths doing rounds have undoubtedly resulted in poor vaccine response. A recent revealing report published in national newspapers disclosed that as high as 300000 people who received first doze, disappeared on their due dates to receive the second dose. This is, without a doubt, rooted in mythological considerations attached to vaccination. As if this was not enough, certain side effects like the people with cardiac problems and asthma, if vaccinated, should be prepared leaving for the eternity are talk of the town. The government and health department have done zero work with regard to putting such unfounded fears and side effects highlighted to rest. We are appreciative of the provincial government’s efforts of making vaccines available at Taluka and UCs level hospitals. Since disillusionment, discouragement and depression stemming from myths associated with vaccine is pulling people away from immunological cover prioritized by the health department, this is the front the provincial government has a mountain to climb in terms of deploying diligent and professional health personnel to dilute the dangers dangled by unscrupulous individuals.
This could be achieved by holding seminars, lectures and conferences with teams of doctors especially focusing factors shaping poor vaccine response. Media campaign should be launched negating myths while highlighting the benefits of to be vaccinated. Besides, temporary side effects like developing fever, drowsiness etc. and internationally recognized rare side effects associated with the vaccine are told to the population so that they are mentally prepared for.
To educate the society especially the rural areas where the sway of mythological considerations attached to vaccination are higher when compared to big cities be primarily focused.
Mr. Chief Minister, the Sindh government had earned national and international accolades from across the sections of the society and international organizations alike for its active Covid19 containment strategy, but this thoughtless policy of closing OPDs is set to spoil the appreciation and recognition given earlier. Let this not happen. Let the suffering population_ small children, the aged, men and women not be left to suffer on the altar of thoughtlessness. Under no circumstances, those suffering should be left to fend for themselves. I hope the ordeal inked reaches the ears of your good office. And, factors holding the population back from immunological cover thoroughly highlighted; and the suggestions slated as a solution to fix poor vaccine response will receive needed serious attention and subsequent urgent administrative intervention in every context.