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Public Health, Data, Discourse and Strategy in the Age of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic is a jarring reminder of the growing inadequacy of 19th and 20th-century governance systems that are tasked with protecting and serving the people. As the authorities reopen the economy, and Pakistan approaches peak infection rates, the policy discourse should begin to look at the near term challenges of mitigating the public health damage, and the post-COVID-19 scenario. What lessons should be drawn from this pandemic? What are the specific pain points that define and shape Pakistan’s governance system with respect to data and public health?
Dr. Samia Altaf is a physician and public health specialist. She was formerly the senior advisor to the Office of Health at the USAID Mission in Islamabad.
Syed Veqar ul Islam is the Director and Chief Executive at Jaffer Business Systems. He is also the President of Touchpoint Group
Dr. Musadik Malik is a Health Strategist and Senator in Government of Pakistan with extensive experience in public policy
Dr. Mishal Khan is a social epidemiologist and Associate Professor of Health Policy and Systems Research at LSHTM
Navid Qazi is a Senior Executive and Global Service Provider at Cisco
Highlighting the significance of understanding the epidemiological developments (like the R0) of the novel Covid-19 pandemic, our panellists unpack the nature of the response required as it services the degree of impact within countries. This includes answering questions pertaining to strategies, evidence, qualification and accountability. The lessons learnt so far indicate the need for urgency in an informed response. Does it really have to be lives vs. livelihoods? Or are the strategies to save lives, jobs and the economy all interlinked with one another?
Reliable Data and Information
The panellists stress on the need to extract reliable data in order to inform central policies. These policies further require a central charge that is cognisant of available resources. Only once these are established, can questions of the language and effectiveness around ‘lockdown’ be addressed to tackle persisting confusion around the measures being taken.
Strategic Intent and Objectives
Using lessons from international examples, as well as on ground data, strategizing needs to be simplified with the basic intent to stop the spread of the virus. Our panellists agree that this falls within the basic containment systems of testing, tracing and isolating. To break the back of the virus, this also means putting evidence above opinions and political debate. How can data-centric strategies, furthermore, be implemented?
Nature of Discourse
The discussion also highlights the importance of ongoing discourse as a support for strategies. This involves utilising the requisite language to direct the right kind of implementation, for instance, in identifying the false trade-off between lockdown and herd immunity. How can captured data direct discourse in reality to be strategically consolidated and utilised? Our speakers also stress upon how strategies as discourse are not solutions — but the means towards a solution. How can the focus on the physical world be shifted to a policy discourse on constructing a digital world
Will vs. Capacity
Our panellists collectively recognise the disparity between administrative will and capacity in Pakistan — especially with regard to medical communities and health facilities. Whereas strategic intent and objects are imperative, there is a need for transparency on the presence and utilisation of scarce resources. Who carries out this assessment to ensure that the willingness matches the capacity?