While the number of reported cases of the new coronavirus in India and Pakistan remains in the low thousands, but concerns are growing about the capacity of healthcare system to deal with the potential threat in both countries.

In both countries, it seems to be a major test for the Narendra Modi led government and power less PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan. Lack of hospitals, missing doctors, ill-equipped health professionals, and paucity of funds have dogged the health sector of both countries for decades now.

Around 1.7 billion people live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, a study by Lancet about healthcare systems has ranked all three countries close to the bottom. They also rank at the bottom for infant and neonatal mortality. The Mortality rates among children act as a representation of the level of social development as they show the level of nutrition, parents’ education, and access to health services.

Everyone knows that health is a human right and is essential to development. Good health improves learning, worker productivity, and income. As such, health contributes to economic growth, but in Asia all these essentials are missing. The major reason behind all this is that, both India and Pakistan is growing day by day in terms of population, but the governments spending on public health in both countries is low. For many in these countries, personal health expenses are a major cause of poverty.

Look at the “Make in India” in defence initiative, which the BJP mentioned prominently in its manifesto all the times, needs to be anchored firmly around the private sector.

One strong promise the BJP made before elections was that it will speed up purchases of outstanding equipment and weapons needed by the forces. The Balakot operations and the retaliatory strike by Pakistan the next day bring out focus on a few urgent needs that cannot wait.

The Rafale fighter jets in India, and F-16 aircrafts in Pakistan — the air force of both countries is of the firm belief that the foreign made fighter jets will be able to perform wonders by killing human lives.

Other systems needed by both countries to keep the air strikes option open to act against each other are – guns, tanks and missile. Look at the millions of Pakistanis who voted in favor of Imran Khan, It would be an understatement to say that the promised emergence of Naya Pakistan has failed to actualize. In fact the dream for Naya Pakistan has turned into a nightmare for all those who believed in the unrealistic and utopian ideas of Imran Khan about making Pakistan a vibrant and prosperous nation with rotten healthcare system. The tragedy is that both leaders still believe in false narratives and fanciful make beliefs.

What haunts more is the population density of both India and Pakistan. Wouldn’t millions of poor people living together make it an easily transmissible disease? Consider the slums where hundreds of millions live and work. Implementing strict lockdown in such places is not only difficult, but impossible. A massive, aged citizenry will also make social distancing impossible. India have around 100 million people over the age of 60. It might work for the urban middle class but will not work for urban poor or the rural poor because most of them work in areas that are not suitable for such measures.

As of now, travel restrictions, lockdowns, hotel closures and cancellations of cultural events, businesses, fairs and conferences have already led to irrevocable revenue losses in all affected sectors and are starting to eat away at the resources of many firms. Insolvency risks have ballooned.

One lasting lesson from the COVID-19 outbreak is that, no one can reliably predict future, because too much depends on what is unknowable, how long the outbreak lasts, how many countries it afflicts, and the extent to which a coordinated, concerted, fast-track policy response is mobilized. But what we do know is that the outbreak arrived at a weak point for the economy, when global growth was beginning to pick up from its lowest rate since the 2009 financial crisis.

In the coming weeks, all countries—even those without a single coronavirus patient—will need to take concrete policy steps to protect their people and limit harm to their economies.

Governments in both India and Pakistan should avoid spending huge budgets on defense which would exacerbate disruptions and amplify already elevated levels of uncertainty in both countries. Even more important, both countries should come on a single table to discuss the long pending issues, and instead of hurling bombs at each other, both should work together to support increased production and ensure that resources flow freely through the borders to where they are most needed.

Whatever happens, the pandemic will be a reminder to both India and Pakistan’s governments that they have long-neglected health care infrastructure, especially for their lower-income populations. This public health crisis will also be an economic crisis.

Mir Suhail is a Srinagar based Journalist. He tweets at @kashmirukSuhail


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One Comment

  1. According to WHO the pakistan and india are at the bottom line of the health sector and COVID-19 all type of relevant information about pakistan is provided Zartash