How Balochistan Can Fight against the COVID-19 Epidemic using Technology

On 26 February, Zafar Mirza, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health, stated in a tweet: “I can confirm first two cases of coronavirus in Pakistan. Both cases are being taken care of according to clinical standard protocols and both of them are stable”[1]. The first patient was a student at the University of Karachi, and the second patient was from the federal territory of the country.  Both patients had recently returning from Iran. Balochistan which is Pakistan’ largest and least developed province shares porous borders with Iran and Afghanistan having no systematic border monitoring regime in place owing to its difficult terrain, vastness and lack of policy direction from Federal government. The bordering town of Taftan near the Pak-Iran border was declared as a coronavirus quarantine camp for zahireen returning from Syria, Iraq and Iran. The Guardian a leading newspaper termed the camp as “without any facilities or humanity”[2]

Pakistan has a notoriously poor track record for containing disease outbreaks and is one of only two countries in the world that have failed to eliminate polio[3]. People in the largest province of Pakistan have been accusing government of covering up an outbreak. If it is to be true this would be developing an alarming situation for the region in coming weeks. Historically, the government has been guilty of hiding their negligence and their poor performance, Babar Bin Atta the prime minister’s focal representative on polio eradication was forced to resign after he decided not disclose the recent reemergence of polio cases to anyone. Under Pakistani law, every new case of polio in the country has to be officially registered with the government, which then alerts international health bodies and donors.  The situation is equally similar and worse in the hospitals in Balochistan, the least developed and most impoverished province of Pakistan, which are tasked with dealing with the COVID19 outbreak. Social media videos have further exposed the government especially health department preparation to deal with the virus. The mishandling and poor planning of countering coronavirus outbreak is depressing and disturbing according to one local doctor who is monitoring the situation.

Given the bleak situation where thousands of lives could be at risk in the Province as the government races to contain the virus by wisely closing down education institutions, public dealing offices, closing the border with Iran and Afghanistan and importantly all kinds of public gatherings. But it is important to remember that it was technology that played a pivotal role in China’s response to #COVID19 outbreak, such as proactive surveillance for detection and diagnosis of infection, immediate isolation, rigorous contact tracing, and quarantine of the close contacts and using digital identity management platform that Pakistan has already developed and way ahead in terms of adaptability compared to other countries in similar situation like ours.

Develop a monitoring and tracking system using NADRA to trace people and family for containing the spread of virus within communities. Track down people who have recently returned from Iran and other countries for monitoring results and tracking cross border movements. The same platform can also be used to reach out to daily wagers, people whose jobs are at risk for distribution of welfare aid and most importantly avoid fraud and wastage.

Develop an online epidemic information dissemination platform for reaching out public using push sms notification to reach out to places having no internet access. Use dedicated local Cable TV network channel for information dissemination in local languages.

Develop immediate fact Check guides to correct rumors and misinformation spreading like fire on COVID-19.

Due to limited health facilities across #Balochistan and literary no doctors on ground COVID19 online consultation is needed which requires basic technology.

Rollout cases Nearby Map on Google map so people can check the cases reported in neighborhood. The map can display the reported locations of the confirmed cases close to the user’s current location and the areas the patient has gone to base on cellphone base station data without disclosing any personal information of patient.

Develop self-testing toolkit for Quick Test using app and location services. Users may receive an instant conclusion about their infection risks with personalized recommendations from the system. The system can generate messages based on the answers the person enters for a set of simple questions. Automated responses can include “Keep up with strict precautions to minimize risks,” “Immediate self-isolation is required,” “Please report to the local hospital.”

All these measures among many others are needed for fight against Corona Virus.