US and Pakistan hand in hand against infectious diseases

Since 1947, United States and Pakistan are working together for betterment in various sectors in Pakistan. The health sector is of prime focus. Pakistan is still coping and struggling to install and ensure better healthcare facilities and better disease management. The US is working in Pakistan for more than 70 years through local NGOs, collaboration with the government, and its programmes. UNICEF and USAID are working in collaboration in Pakistan along with some local health care organisations and programmes.
Communicable diseases have always been the prime cause of mortalities in Pakistan. Following major communicable diseases are recorded as they are intermittently surfacing. Acute respiratory infection (51%), viral hepatitis (7.5% - particularly caused by types B and C are major epidemics in Pakistan. Pakistan has the world’s 2nd highest prevalence of hepatitis C), tuberculosis (The country is said to have the fourth highest prevalence of multidrug-resistant TB globally. The prevalence of TB in Pakistan is 348 per 100,000), malaria (16% - It is a problem faced by people living in villages and areas with poor infrastructure in Pakistan. Almost 177 million are at risk of malaria with 3.5 million confirmed cases annually), diarrhoea (15%), dysentery (8%), scabies (7%), and coronavirus.
The root cause of this alarming situation is poor sanitation, substandard food consumption, lousy healthcare facilities in rural areas, and exposure to disease-causing infectious agents. On top of this, an increasing population in Pakistan is a major threat which is not being sensitised by those at the helm of the affair.
Pakistan has faced many infectious outbreaks and the US has extended help incentives supremely through funding, training healthcare staff, giving equipment, and many more such as in the case of the dengue fever outbreak. The world’s largest outbreak of drug-resistant typhoid fever was controlled with help of the US and other international organisations. Pakistan is one of the 70 countries which benefited from the Global Health Security Agenda supported by the US government. It includes engaging the country’s government, donation networks, and private sector to identify, avert and take action against the outbreak of infectious diseases. The USAID programmes support the efforts to improve the healthcare facilities that are increasing their capacity and efficiency. The USAID focuses on the availability of clean water and proper sanitation so that Pakistan can control infectious diseases and detect threats relevant to them.
The USAID support system mostly operates when there are several huge mortalities, early warning and on-time control of infectious diseases including polio, tuberculosis, malaria, HIV/AIDS, leishmaniasis, hepatitis, acute respiratory infection, acute watery diarrhoea, dengue fever, and Crimean congo hemorrhagic fever among others. Proper vaccination and immunisation are also encouraged through collaboration.
Foreign assistance plays a significant role in evolving Pakistan’s healthcare system. The government of Unites States, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, United Nations Fund for Population Activities, OXFAM, and United States Agency for International Development are major donors along with others. WHO has the chairmanship of the Health, Population, and Nutrition Partners Group since 2017 as it aims the installation of well organized and efficient donor support in Pakistan. There is a need to fight infectious diseases on war footings to get a technical and technological advanced disease prevention health-based programme installed both for animals and humans on very grassroots level to ensure the existence of a healthy population in Pakistan.
There is a dire need for both US and Pakistan to work together on the governmental, institutional, and societal levels and involve public and private players to curb, control and prevent the spread of infectious diseases in Pakistan.
The government of Pakistan has followed specific techniques against malaria such as prompt diagnosis of suspected malaria. Moreover, UNICEF, WHO, and UNDP have launched a new campaign in Pakistan and special other countries to combat malaria, which brought about approximately 1 million deaths every year in the world. Pakistan and the US fight against dengue as they took measures in vector surveillance or control activities such as opening a field hospital in Lahore in which they fumigate as well as spot regular checkups in the hospital, and opening a campaign of surveillance of Aedes larvae or spraying the activities in Pakistan.
According to WHO, Pakistan’s fighting strategy against COVID-19 is very good and effective. During a pandemic situation, the National Disaster Management Authority, the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations and Coordination and USAID made a partnership to mitigate COVID-19 through collaboration with local, provincial, and federal health authorities. Moreover, apart from conducting rapid response units across Pakistan to strengthen COVID-19 monitoring, the USAID is also introducing a digital solution to make COVID-19 tests easily accessible.
The healthcare system of Pakistan ranks 154th out of 195 countries in the world, and as a developing country, it is a work in progress while the US has been making headway for a long time. There are major inequalities in the health status of both countries, but joining hands has always been a decision in favour of Pakistan. The country has shown gradual progress in its healthcare system over the years but is still lacking stability in overcoming the problems it faces in the health sector. Diseases such as COVID-19 have shaken the system to the core, and have immensely affected the common population, especially the healthcare workers. However, the US has been a top donor country to Pakistan, which will hopefully help it to stand on its feet and bring out the required changes in its system. The commitment between the countries has shown a clear goal of achieving progress, which will not only be good for Pakistan but the entire region. A stable and prosperous Pakistan will play a worthwhile role in the world.

–The writer is working as Assistant Professor in the
Department of Infectious Biology, Cholistan University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Bahawalpur, Pakistan

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