Comment: Our unforgivable tardiness on SARS
By Sarfaraz Ahmed
KARACHI: Luckily, no SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) case has so far been reported in Pakistan. The health counters at all ports of entry are reported to have begun screening passengers from four destinations—-Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Canada——to prevent people entering the country with this deadly disease.se.
But it is still concerning that the health authorities began to act on the World Health Organisation’s global warning on SARS about one week it was issued.
Even at the international airport at Karachi, the country’s busiest, no passenger had been checked for SARS before March 23—despite the scary news and painful photographs from Southeast Asia—although the WHO warning had come on March 15.
But doctors at Karachi airport immigration counters emphasise that no incoming passenger has been detected with SARS—since, of course, since March 23. But what about the perturbing one-week gap before that magic date?
And SARS is really spreading, and the speed can be gauged from these figures. As of yesterday (Thursday), according to WHO, there were 2,722 reported SARS cases, with 106 fatalities, in 16 countries. That’s a jump of 51 cases and three deaths since the day before.
New cases were reported in China (1), Hong Kong (42—2 deaths), Singapore (5—one death), and far away Canada (3) and the US (1). The single case reported in Australia has been removed from the list. “Many of China’s poorer provinces may not have adequate resources, facilities, and equipment to cope with outbreaks of SARS,” a WHO report said on Wednesday.
The alarm caused by this mysterious disease is such in the affected areas that a large number of people there are using safety gears on a large scale.
Another worrisome aspect for Pakistan: the incidence of SARS is mostly in those countries whose health facilities and healthcare are incomparably better than in this country, where even common hygiene is virtually non-existent and safe drinking water rare.
In Pakistan, contagious diseases such as tuberculosis still exist on a large scale. Multi-drug-resistant (MDR) cases of tuberculosis are on the increase. The DOTS strategy adopted by the health authorities to combat the menace of tuberculosis may be effective, but it will take time to eliminate the ancient curse. Meanwhile, other infectious diseases claim innumerable lives in the country. On October 26 2001, Pakistan’s first clinically confirmed case of anthrax occurred in Karachi.
And yet we are so cavalier about SARS that we can’t take precautionary measures at our ports of entry in time. It is almost terrifying to imagine what would happen if the country were hit by the dread disease.