WHO Pakistan Critical Role during COVID 19 and Unyielding Efforts to Expand Laboratory Testing Capacity of the Country

 WHO reckoned the nature of the global health crisis, adopted a proactive approach and liaised with every stakeholder to strengthen the response and building the capacity of laboratories which provide the timely and reliable information that underpins detection, assessment and surveillance for effective prevention and control of COVID-19 within Pakistan. WHO teams accelerated their efforts from the onslaught of the on-going pandemic. It assisted Government policymakers, who were trying to handle the situation with full commitment and dedication round the clock, in various areas such as coordination, case management, disease surveillance, laboratory, community mobilization and sensitization to curtail the spread of the virus. WHO stood upfront and responded swiftly to initiate multi-partner coordination mechanisms and engagement with national authorities to develop a Pakistan-specific operational plan to support preparedness and response at the national and provincial level. It was evident from the experience of European communities and localities that the effect of this pandemic would be way more catastrophic for South Asian Communities because of their weak health care systems. WHO Country Representative Dr Palitha Mahipala’s leadership skills and experience supported him to gear the WHO efforts in the right direction. WHO assisted the Pakistani Government to enlarge the country’s testing capacity to many folds as it helped to analyze disease trend and spread patterns and its impact on the community in future.

WHO Pakistan delineated the comprehensive laboratory guidance & protocols in the national context considering the global technical recommendations. It provided Interim guidance for Laboratory testing of human suspected cases of novel Coronavirus Infection which covered suspected case definition, specimen collection and shipment, effective usage of global laboratory networking, testing in reference laboratories and reporting of cases and test results. WHO shared the Laboratory Assessment Tool (LAT) with existing laboratories which facilitated testing for COVID-19 within the public and private sector. WHO proved to be an inspirational entity, a beacon of hope for the Pakistani community in this time of uncertainty. It worked together with local health care workers and medical institutes to facilitate international collaboration with WHO CCs for provision of reagents and controls. It collaborated with WHO designated Centres in Hong Kong for the acquisition of the 2019 nCoV protocols, Primer/probe kits and positive control materials.

                                  A trained worker in one of the laboratories

WHO staff relentless support to identify and detect early cases, active support to laboratories at the national and provincial level through the provision of PPE, VTM, equipment, diagnostic kits, supplies and skilled Human Resources helped Health Care System of Pakistan substantially. WHO spearheaded the training on sample collection, transportation and diagnostic testing. It stayed at the forefront to support operational research through the ‘UNITY’ seroepidemiological studies in Pakistan. WHO provided technical support for validation testing of equipment and kits. WHO viewed as ‘’Guardian of Health Care’’ around the globe and undoubtedly it stood to the expected role and steered Pakistani Government to take necessary steps to handle the outbreak of COVID-19.

WR and dynamic staff members of WHO Pakistan gauged the magnitude of this humanitarian calamity timely because of their sheer grit and determination. They monitored and participated in every activity and lent incessant support to Government of Pakistan to cope with a highly unprecedented risk and rapidly evolving situation due to pandemic. WHO teams visited Airports and Isolation units regularly to assess the reporting sites at the health facility level and discussed the response of the case with the Incharge of the Unit. WR visited Baluchistan to meet Chief Minister, Secretary Health, DGHS and his team. He assured them of WHO support to the department of health for strengthening Preparedness, surveillance and response to COVID-19. He also met with Secretary Health (Primary & Secondary Health Care) Punjab to discuss improving diagnostic testing, SARI surveillance and data management for effective and coordinated COVID-response. The Country Head visited the isolation rooms/wards at the Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Center, Lahore.

              Dr Mahipala donating the PCR machines along with the accessories at the                  office of Provincial Minister for Health & Finance, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

The WHO prompt response to mete out the requirement of medical equipment and health care supplies were laudable. The World Health Organization country representative, Pakistan Dr Palitha Mahipala visited AJ&K and handed over real-time PCR machines, IT equipment (Desktop Computers) and PPEs to Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider. The Prime Minister and his team thanked WHO Pakistan for unwavering support to combat COVID-19 in Punjab. Dr Palitha Mahipala, on another occasion, donated Real-Time PCR machines, to the Provincial Minister for Health and Finance, KP Mr Taimur Saleem who was appreciative of WHO efforts in Pakistan. Dr Palitha Mahipala, donated real-time

WHO Pakistan country representative, Dr Palitha Mahipala, donating PCR machine to H.E Prime Minister AJ & K, Raja Farooq Haider

PCR machines, to Provincial minister for health, Dr Yasmin Rashid.  She was thankful for WHO steady support to combat the ravages of COVID-19 in Punjab. WHO has donated 23 PCR machines to Provinces with other medical paraphernalia.

In a nutshell, WHO played a significant role in responding to COVID 19 pandemic all over the world. Here in Pakistan, WHO activities proved rewarding and as a result, national laboratory testing capacity improved steadily. In March the testing capacity was less than 1000 tests per day by a total of 12 to 15 laboratories but afterwards, it was increased over 50,000 tests per day by a total of 129 laboratories which was an achievement in itself. Certainly, WHO support helped the Government to cope with health crisis expeditiously.