These are worrying times for all of us, getting used to isolation, dealing with disruption, perhaps fearing for our jobs. But there is a crisis brewing in Pakistan that may be on a totally different scale to the situations we will encounter in the West. There are concerns from politicians, commentators and epidemiologists that Pakistan is going to be much worse affected than countries that have so far been hit like China and Italy... twice as bad? ten times as bad? think more...
(And if that is the case, what can PAK7 do to play its part in helping the people of Pakistan?)
The argument goes a little like this… there are four likely scenarios for how countries will be able to deal with the virus: (see the article from the Washington Post which includes this fascinating virus simulator)
According to Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, they cannot do what wealthier nations are doing to lock down their cities - Pakistan he says is just too poor.
Ability to stay indoors for weeks on end
Possible. People live in reasonably large houses with low occupancy, have plenty of entertainment, and purchasing power to acquire and store days worth of food.
Difficult. High occupancy, small houses, limited entertainment options, limited funds for purchasing large stocks of food
Money for food and accommodation
In many cases, in wealthy nations people are able to live off their savings, or get emergency funding from the government.
In poor nations, people live more hand-to-mouth. They need to work to get money for the next day or the next week. Many do not have savings or bank accounts.
Many wealthy nations are less communal. We have a tendency to become individualistic and don’t rely so much on our extended family and community.
In developing nations there are strong family ties, and dependencies on the church and the mosque community for support.
In general, good provision of healthcare, with a reasonable number of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, and numerous healthcare professionals
In general, less extensive healthcare facilities and smaller numbers of medical staff. Usually no state provision, but privately funded.
Free for All
For these reasons Pakistan is likely to be on Option 1: Free-for-all or Option 2: Attempted Quarantine. I can’t decide which as even though the army is being deployed today, it is not to enforce a total lock-down, although this might happen in the days to come. Either way, they are trying to slow the spread of the virus which is a good thing.
However, in a nation of 220 million people, this is going to quickly become challenging. Some articles (although I am not clever enough to vouch for their accuracy) have speculated that based on current knowledge and rate of infection that 90 million Pakistanis could be infected in the next 40 days. At the moment, the rate of infection seems to be about 35% per day (for many countries including Pakistan, but also the US and the UK). So if you have 800 infections today, they will grow to 1080 infections tomorrow, and 1460 the next day and so on...after 39 days you get to 90 million infections. Of course, my math is wrong, as things slow down as the rate of infection falls because the average infected person would be meeting people who already had the virus or were immune. But you get the point… it could grow very rapidly.
This frightens me, because if something like this projection occurs, the consequences will be unimaginably painful. I don’t even want to do the math on the number of deaths, or the numbers with long term lung damage, or the deaths from secondary disease, or the numbers of orphans created, or the numbers of violent crimes, or those falling into greater poverty.
If you are in the West, frustrated in your comfortable isolation, spare a thought for those in developing nations who will be dealing with far far worse in the weeks to come.
What can we do in such a situation? Although we cannot contribute meaningfully to the slowing of the rate of infection (although all of our staff are being asked to stay at home), we can be there to meet with people at a time when they are suffering and asking questions.
Media is going to have a significant role to play in coming alongside people at a time when they are angry, frustrated, grieving, dying, when they are in shock, when they are disillusioned.
Right now we are rapidly developing a range of social media video content to share with people to support them in this time of great need. Videos that speak to our pain and our suffering, but which also give glimpses of the God whom we serve and who loves us.
Those that want to talk will also be able to contact us on social media through online chat. We will do our best to help them to talk about their challenges and to share with them God’s love.
This is going to be an awful period in the history of Pakistan: more traumatic than the 2005 earthquake that killed 20,000 people; more traumatic than Partition from India when an estimated 2 million died? We pray that is not the case, but it might be.
When people are going through change and through earth shattering experiences like this, they reach out to God. It is natural. We have observed it during other events, like the Arab Spring in 2011. Now is a time for the church to step forwards and reach out in love to a hurting world at a time when the church itself will be hurting. At PAK7, we are getting ready to play our part.
Depending on who you are, there may be a number of ways you could help.
Make no mistake, there is a crisis coming. If we act now we have a chance of being ready to help people when they need it the most.