• 042-35941921, UAN: 03-111-999-101
  • info@kipscss.net

Inside Pakistan’s COVID-19 Contact Tracing

  • Niha Dagia
  • Aug, 2020
  • 168
  • Pakistan Health Policy

Detective work is at the heart of efforts to fight the pandemic. Will it be enough?

About 35,000 feet up in the air, Patient X felt her body warming, with a hint of body aches. She gulped down two paracetamols - a common medication for pain and fever relief - so she could get some sleep on the 16-hour long flight.

It was early March and the World Health Organization (WHO) had just declared COVID-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, to be a pandemic. Security at airports had been beefed up, with travelers undergoing mandatory health checks. But a second dose of medication taken onboard allowed Patient X to pass through the screening process as she landed in Islamabad.

Two days later, the fatigue grew into a fever, followed by a dry cough. But Patient X braved the symptoms to catch up with family and friends over brunches and dinners. With worsening symptoms, she even attended a family wedding.

Eight days after the appearance of the first symptom, Patient X was tested for COVID-19. Three hours after testing positive, she was placed on a ventilator. “Her condition was critical due to comorbidities,” said the hospital staff.

Worried Patient X could be the country’s first COVID-19 casualty, investigators set out to trace her primary and secondary contacts.

In just six months, the novel coronavirus has infected over 10 million people across the globe. Governments around the world are grappling amid the outbreak with the looming threat of second and third waves. With scientists engrossed in finding a vaccine, countries to look to flatten the curve and reopen economies.

In the fight against the pandemic, testing and contact tracing are crucial pieces of ammunition alongside social distancing, isolation, and quarantines.

In Pakistan, Imran Khan’s government has been scrutinized for reopening the economy too soon - over 170,000 cases have been recorded post-lockdown compared to 32,218 cases during the partial lockdown. As the graph trends higher, the WHO has underscored that Pakistan does not fulfill the prerequisites to ease its lockdown.

As COVID-19 notches a 2 percent mortality rate in Pakistan, with over 4,100 deaths, the premier has advised citizens to learn to live with the virus while the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) attempts contact tracing, testing, and smart lockdowns to contain the spread.

What Is Contact Tracing?

An age-old tool to control the spread of infectious diseases, contact tracing is the detective work that lies at the heart of pandemic-fighting. In recent times, it has been used to contain Ebola, SARS, MERS, tuberculosis, and other outbreaks.

Contact tracing begins with trained staff interviewing the patient to make a timeline of where they have been to figure out who and how many people they may have been in contact with. Once the contacts have been identified, the investigators locate and inform them of possible exposure to the virus, and advise accordingly.

The WHO defines contact tracing in three steps:

Identification: Once someone is confirmed as infected with a virus, contacts are identified by asking about the person’s activities and the activities and roles of the people around them since the onset of illness.

Listing: All persons considered to have contact with the infected person should be listed as contacts.

Follow-up: Regular follow-up should be conducted, with all contacts instructed to monitor for symptoms and test for signs of infection.

“Contact tracing is done via a combination of conventional methods and augmented via some newer methods,” said the prime minister’s focal person on COVID-19, Dr. Faisal Sultan. “The general procedure is that once a person is identified via a lab test as being positive, provincial and local authorities contact or visit the person and identify their close personal contacts, evaluate the need for testing them, and provide a general advice about self isolation.”

He added that the provinces carry out contact tracing, but the process is assisted and centrally collated, and the NCOC is aware of the tests done for potentially infected persons and as part of contact tracing.

According to the official definition, a primary contact is any person who has had face-to-face interaction for more than 15 minutes within 1 meter of a probable or confirmed patient. People who have had contact for more than 15 minutes with that distance are considered high-risk suspects, while those who were more than 1 meter away are considered low-risk.

Any person who came in contact with suspected COVID-19 cases is considered to be a secondary contact.

Contact Tracing i...

Share on facebook or twitter

Email to a friend