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SAARC leadership holds video conference on coronavirus Outbreak

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In the wake of the Corovirus pandemic leaders of SAARC nations met via video conference on Sunday to discuss measures to stop the spread of the virus. Pakistan was represented in the conference by Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza. Other SAARC countries were represented by the respective heads of State or Heads of Governments.

Addressing the South Asian leaders Dr Zafar Mirza said Covid-19 Pandemic is a global health emergency, the likes of which have not been witnessed in the past century. At the same time, while it has been characterized as a global pandemic, it is deemed “controllable” as well. Least of all SAARC, which is home to one-fifth of humanity, several of the world’s largest mega-cities, and many of the most densely populated regions, he added.

Dr Mirza said Pakistan shares the common concern over the potential of Covid-19 affecting South Asia. All our countries now have confirmed cases. Dr Mirza said WHO’s four-pronged advice offers a reasonable way forward- preparation and readiness, detection, prevention and treatment, reduction and suppression, and innovation and improvement. He said Pakistan has been involved in containment efforts right from the outset of the outbreak.

“We have been alert to the dangers, and have put in place appropriate protocols for the safety and health of our people” he added. SAPM on Health said we have been matching our measures to real-time threat assessments. While, we have stressed the need for caution, we have strongly advised against panic. A calm and deliberate response is the need for the hour, In consultation with WHO, we have been taking steps to restrict movement to and from the affected areas, regulate lights, institute detection measures at entry points, and establish quarantine controls at border crossings Diagnosed cases are being quarantined, and contacts traced proactively.

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Dr. Mirza shared that Prime Minister Imran Khan is personally overseeing these efforts. Resultantly, Pakistan has managed so far to contain, an achievement the WHO has recognized and commended. Our National Security Committee met on 13 March, for the first time on a national health issue, and has decided to take further steps to contain the spread he informed.

The four pillars of our response strategy include Governance and Finance, Prevention, Mitigation, and Communication. Dr Zafar Mirza mentioning the steps taken by Pakistan Government said we have decided to close all educational institutions for three weeks, close the entire western border for two weeks, restrict international flights to three airports only, ban all public gatherings, and reinforce screening and administrative measures at seaports.

The National Disaster Management Authority has been mandated to lead the inter-agency effort at the federal and provincial levels he said. Effective coordination at all levels is deemed critically important. The pandemic forces us to think not in terms of nations and States, but as a collective. The unprecedented challenge, therefore, warrants unprecedented responses. We must recognize that national and local responses remain the most critically important.

It is equally important to pursue evidence and science-based responses. Stigmatization and stereotyping are counter-productive. The SAARC Secretariat is best placed to coordinate SAARC’s endeavours With this in view, Pakistan proposes that the SAARC Secretariat be mandated to establish a Working Group of respective national authorities for information and data exchange as well as coordination for responses in real-time, learn from and disseminate the experience of SAARC Observer States, particularly China that is effectively addressing the challenge and can share valuable insights. The challenge at hand, demands sagacity, vision and synergy stressed Pakistan SAPM on Health Dr. Zafar Mirza.

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Pakistani doctors on forefronts against COVID-19 worldwide: PM

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Islamabad:Prime Minister Imran Khan Saturday said Pakistani health professionals were on the front line in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic worldwide.

On Twitter, the prime minister said Pakistani doctors working abroad also desired to help the government in Pakistan for what a dedicated portal www.yaranewatan.gov.pk has been launched.

The initiative would provide the willing overseas health professionals a platform to register for voluntary services.

According to official portal, Yaran-e-Watan is a joint initiative by the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani diaspora health communities.

The objective is to facilitate voluntary two-way engagement that addresses the gaps in the health needs of Pakistani people by coupling them with the expertise of Pakistani and foreign health professionals practising abroad.

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The World to save developing countries from recession caused by COVID-19 : Hafeez

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ISLAMABAD :Adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh Tuesday expressed the hope that financial and other forums of the world would be able to come up with a plan, enabling developing countries like Pakistan to meet their international obligations and provide relief to the population adversely effected by COVID-19 pandemic.

Talking to Ambassador of China, Yao Jing, who called on him here, he said keeping in view the present circumstances, the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and G-20 countries were talking about debt relief, without which developing countries would be worst affected.

He said Pakistan looked forward to Chinese support in dealing with this unprecedented situation arising because of this pandemic.

The advisor welcomed the ambassador and thanked the Chinese government for all the assistance it had provided so far to Pakistan in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also shared with the ambassador the details of the economic relief package given by the government to the people whose lives and businesses were affected by the pandemic.

He said during this difficult time, the government had three major priorities including provision of healthcare and safety to its people, cash assistance to the most vulnerable and keeping the wheel of the economy moving in slow but steady pace.

The government, he said, had come up with a comprehensive relief package of worth Rs1.2 trillion, which included, Rs200 billion assistance for workers and labourers, Rs100 billion for supporting SME and agriculture sector, Rs107 billion as sales tax refunds and Rs50 billion income tax refunds from 2014 onward.

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Moreover, Ehsaas Programme, through its urgent cash disbursement, was taking care of the most vulnerable in the country.

He said the reduction in petrol and diesel prices and deferment of payment of bills were some other significant steps. Incentivizing the construction sector was also an opportunity for those who were in need of work.

The adviser also discussed with the ambassador about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the overall growth of the economy of the country as exports and remittances would both suffer as the global economies were in recessionary phase.

He said different economies had different levels of strength to deal with the economic losses and the developing countries would be the worst hit by the impact of this slow down.

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Covid-19

Big News : Pakistan authorizes plasma therapy trials for COVID-19 patients

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ISLAMABAD: Trials for plasma therapy to help treat severely ill coronavirus patients are going to start this week, as the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) has authorized the procedure, DRAP chief executive Asim Rauf told Arab News on Monday.

The therapy involves collecting plasma from the blood of people who have recovered from the infection and developed antibodies to fight the disease.

“Initially the coronavirus patients will be treated via the antibody technique at the National Institute of Blood Diseases and Bone Marrow Transplantation in Karachi (NIBD), LUMS Medical University in Lahore, and Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences in Jamshoro under the strict supervision of senior doctors,” Rauf said.

Antibodies are produced by the immune system to fight a virus. When a person’s body produces antibodies in response to a vaccine, he or she develops long-lasting active immunity. But since there is no COVID-19 vaccine yet, hopes are running high that for the moment plasma treatment could help in critical cases. Also called passive immunization, it can provide antibodies immediately and aid survival.

Pakistan is not the first country to test the therapy, Rauf said, “It was used in China and some other countries. We do not have many recovered patients so far, so we will have less plasma, but at least the trial could tell us the effectiveness of the treatment.”

“There are standard international protocols which would be followed in Pakistan as well like consent of both patient and donor. Strict screening of the donor for any other medical complications and quantity of the plasma to be injected will be determined by senior expert doctors,” he said.

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The DRAP chief also confirmed that the drug regulator has already authorized a clinical trial of the prototype of ventilators approved by the Pakistan Engineering Council, and local production of chloroquine phosphate, a drug found to be supportive in COVID-19 treatment.

According to NIBD chairman Dr. Tahir Shamsi, who suggested the introduction of plasma therapy to the Pakistani government, trials at his hospital will start in the next few days.

“I am tirelessly coordinating and organizing the passive immunization program in the country. The treatment through this method will start within few days which will help especially critical patients,” Shamsi he said over the phone from Karachi.

The trials will be monitored by a special expert committee from the Ministry of Health, its director general, Malik Muhammad Safi told Arab News.

“In Pakistan, it will take time to produce results, but the plasma therapy is being used in the UK, China and a few other countries to improve immunity against the virus in critical patients,” he said.

Dr. Durre Naz Jamal, director of the Sindh Blood Transfusion Authority, said the provincial government has also established a committee of experts for the application of plasma therapy in COVID-19 treatment.

“The government committee will make a list of recovered patients in the province and will take plasma from those who have no other health issues to be used on ventilator stage patients,” she said, adding that plasma therapy trials have also been approved by the National Bioethics Committee.

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