By Minaam Abid
The outbreak of the novel Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on a global scale. Topics such as derailing economies, crippled healthcare systems, and lack of a structured approach to disaster management have been fueling debates across our nation for weeks. One opinion, however, stands unanimous: the protection of our frontline healthcare workers. Social distancing, albeit the primary measure to protect the masses, cannot be practiced between healthcare providers and their patients, which brings us to the only element that gives them a fighting chance in the face of a deadly virus: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Following the outbreak, health systems across the world are struggling to accommodate the pandemic. Our medical facilities, stretched thin for PPE among other vital resources, are no different. As the cases of COVID-19 increased from hundreds to thousands; the prices of PPE including masks, gowns, and gloves sky-rocketed. Doctors, paramedics, and ancillary staff eventually resorted to desperate measures. Some fashioned gowns out of trash bags, while others continued to use the same N95 respirator for weeks on end. In the absence of a safety net, hundreds of healthcare professionals have contracted the virus, while 3 deaths have been reported so far within the medical fraternity of Karachi alone.
There is, however, a flip side. Our organization, First Response Initiative of Pakistan (FRIP), is one of the many groups that quickly rose to the occasion in order to bridge the gaps in the system. A largely student-run venture, with a volunteer force of almost 5oo individuals, FRIP has been striving to foster safer, more resilient communities since 10 years. Dr. Haris Sheikh, a frontline healthcare worker and former president at FRIP, acknowledged the dire need to facilitate the supply chain of PPE in the wake of this crisis, setting in motion the most successful FRIP campaign to date.
“Despite being among the fortunate few healthcare workers to have the luxury of protective gear, I still got exposed to Covid-19 thrice. Whenever I was anesthetizing a case or rushing to intubate a crashing patient, I couldn’t help but think about the local tertiary care hospitals where the frontline healthcare workers were putting their life on the line every day without PPE.” says Dr. Haris.
Thus, began a long and grueling journey. Mass Disaster Task Force (MDTF), a long standing ambition of FRIP, sprang into action with the colossal aim of protecting our frontline healthcare professionals. We named our mission #CombatCorona, and decided to cover hospitals across Karachi in the first phase of the campaign.
The first step was to actively engage the community through our social media. Multiple appeals for donations were put out, and Pakistanis across the globe stepped up to help. Alongside, our media team additionally ran an active campaign on all our social media platforms to disseminate authentic information regarding COVID-19 pertaining to guidelines from verified sources. The second step was the procurement of adequate supplies. Gowns face shields, goggles, N95 respirators, and boxes of surgical masks and gloves were bought in bulk after contacting local manufacturers, to stock up our inventory. Meanwhile, our team also established contact with hospitals across the city that were receiving the majority of Covid-19 patients, facing a subsequent, acute shortage of PPE.
Then came the final step: distribution. After a thorough assessment of the on-field situation, we prepared a priority distribution list to ensure timely and need-based dispensation of the equipment. To this date, around two thousand kits, along with hundreds of N-95 respirators, gloves, surgical masks, face shields and hand sanitizers have been distributed among tertiary care hospitals. These include Civil Hospital Karachi, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, National Institute of Child Health, and Dow University Hospital Ojha. We recently ventured beyond the limits of Karachi, and supplied PPE to Civil Hospital Mithi in Tharparkar, marking the leap of our campaign into its next phase.
It is essential to note that this resounding success would not have been possible without the contribution of our generous benefactors: Dow Graduate Association of North America, Khuwab-e-Kishwar Foundation, and Rotary Club of Karachi Sunset Millennium to name a few. We remain thoroughly grateful to our donors and other organizations like Serve Our Civil Hospital (SOCH) and SAAYA for extending their invaluable support to our cause.
While the continually evolving Covid-19 pandemic makes it seemingly impossible to assess the true extent of its resulting trauma, one thing remains certain. The Covid-19 pandemic may be relentless, but so is the determination and generosity of our people.
Writer is the Associate for Publications at FRIP. She is an MBBS student at Dow Medical Colllege and writes as a leisure pursuit.