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Know the Enemy and Yourself: The Art of COVID-19 War

May 11, 2020 03:56 AM

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The resilient Pakistani nation has come a long way. Like it always, does! Quoting Aristotle, “Well begun is half done!”; perhaps, owing to the early interventions in Pakistan, the mission to combat COVID-19 is already, half done!

The curves and charts depicting scientific and epidemiological data leave no shadow of doubt that Pakistan’s approach and response has been spectacular amongst various developing countries in countering COVID-19, thanks to the timely measures taken by the visionary leadership. But this great start, shall only remain a job half accomplished unless this momentum carries through to conclude on a strong note.

Know The Enemy:

The cumulative efforts of epidemiologists and physician-scientists have extensively uncovered the devastating nature of this deadly and highly contagious corona virus: SARS-CoV-2. An enveloped RNA virus with an unusually long genome, prone to a high probability of mutations, may very well remain a moving target for a while. The new strain of SARS-CoV-2, more virulent than before, has also been identified – that is quite alarming, already!

COVID-19 has already dented the global economy. Much beyond, it has inimically impacted the morale of global population without sparing a single nation. It has rapidly spread throughout the world. With roughly 4 million confirmed cases and ~300,000 deaths worldwide, there are no signs for it being fully curbed in the near future. Yet, in the absence of a specific therapeutic solution, we do not have much to offer other than quarantining to prevent the spread of the disease and offering supportive care to those who have contracted the infection. Until an effective treatment is discovered which decreases viral shedding, the continued transmission of this virus to vast populations will be extremely difficult to control. Testing is scarce and far in between. Whether antibody or PCR based, most of the current testing options remain suboptimal on massive scales. The course for development of vaccines and discovering therapeutic options (antivirals and other immunomodulatory agents) via high-quality, rapidly deployed, randomized clinical trials is a long and a tortuous one. Remdesivir, one of the antivirals recently approved by FDA, is only marginally beneficial. Antibody rich convalescent plasma (donated by those who have recovered from COVID-19) offers a reasonable interim solution. However, convincing results from clinical trials focused on vaccines, immunomodulatory and antiviral therapeutic options will be central to rein on otherwise continuing COVID-19 outbreak until a herd immunity is achieved. Thus, COVID-19 is poised to continually pose serious challenges to the mankind in the foreseeable future.

Know Yourself:

We know the enemy, now we need to know ourselves.

Pakistan, thus far, has a total of 618 deaths and 27,474 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This low incidence and a rather plodding rate of infection spread has been a true reflection of a robust and rapid response from the frontline healthcare and public health professionals under the dynamic provincial and federal health ministries in conjunction with other state pillars.

This has only been possible due to various stakeholders joining hands and working in unison. The politicians, the technocrats, the bureaucrats and the religious leadership all have made a serious effort to come on the same page about lockdown and other measures taken. The frontline healthcare professionals – despite all odds and amidst scarce personal protective equipment supplies – have yet again shown they are no less than soldiers posted on the borders when it comes to protecting the nation. The philanthropists, social workers, and the generous Pakistani nation have all stepped up to help those livind under the line of poverty and in need for food or other basic necessitates. The expatriates have donated millions of dollars to help their motherland in this time of need.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”―Sun-Tzu. Whereas tracing, testing and quarantining continues, the Government of Pakistan has taken several cutting-edge and artificial intelligence-based initiatives. Riyaasat ho gee maan kay jaisee: The Pakistani Government has nurtured its citizens with all the “mamta” – possible in these trying times. Yaran-e-Watan (http://yaranewatan.gov.pk/) and Telehealth (https://telehealth.gov.pk/) are just a couple such examples of the wonderful initiatives that our tech-savvy government has taken which will fortify our healthcare system for times to come. Expatriate physicians from UK, USA and elsewhere are registering in massive numbers to offer their services to their homeland through Yaran-e-Watan. Whatever doesn’t kill makes one stronger. When all is said and done with, we will have a better healthcare system, insha’Allāh. Inter-connected. Robust. Fortified with public heath preparedness. This incident caught us all off guard, but it has also provided us with opportunities to take a stock of what we have, where we stand, identify the shortcomings and how we can overcome all these to get to a level where we ideally want to be. The very initiative that one of the tertiary care teaching hospital is taking, AKUH, by leveraging its infrastructure in not only being on the forefront of testing but also offering telemedicine based critical care help and providing formal ICU training to healthcare professionals around the country. This definitely opens up a whole new chapter in Pakistan’s history where rather than competing with each other, medical institutions are coming together to joining hands in combatting such challenges thereby augmenting the state institutions.

However, there is an impending danger that all these impressive statistics can go hay wire and all the hard work accomplished thus far can become meaningless if the continued and cautious approach is not taken up by each and every individual Pakistani. Thus, it is critical for us to know ourselves. We need to be cognizant of our true responsibilities especially now when there is going to be some leniency surrounding the lockdown. We also need to aware of what is going to be the real expectation from us during the remaining of Ramzan. We need to know how we can make this Ramzan best one ever without endangering others’ lives. We need to be mindful and careful to not bypass the social distancing approach.

But do we know ourselves? Do we know who we are and what is our very purpose of our being? Well, our purpose as Allah SWT mentions in Quran is to worship Him (51:56). But at the same time, Allah enjoins us to not risk others lives: “And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right.” (Quran 17:33). Thus, we need to be more careful and contain ourselves within our homes as much as possible, especially during this Ramzan, by keeping a balance between worship and by inflicting no harm to others. Just a bit of patience is all that we need as a nation: Abhi ishq ke imtikhan aur bhee hayn!

“So do not weaken and do not grieve, and you will be superior if you are [true] believers” (Quran 3:139). Thus, it is not the time to be weak but become strong by being united and following Quran in both letter and spirit by taking guidance from Quran and using the best practices as defined by the contemporary sciences. If we do so, we shall never ever despair and never see grief. What doesn’t kill you makes one stronger. In Allama Iabal’s words: “Khattam ho jaayey gaa lekin imtikhaan ka daur bhee”.

Only if one were true in one’s Sovereign and Supreme Allah SWT, then this is a test, a test that companions of Holy Prophet faced at Hudaybiah. Clothed in ehraam, with Qurbani animals accompanying, all eager and passionate to keep marching to Holy Kaa’ba in order to do perform Umrah and yet they had to retrieve back, they had to re-adjust their geo-compass, they had to return to Madina without making the sacred tawaf and performing umrah. They did only at the order of Holy Prophet. The wisdom behind Allah SWT’s decision revealed itself soon after when Makkah was conquered by the very companions of Holy Prophet who were initially taken aback by the pact made at Hudaybiah to retreat. Surah Fateh was revealed on that occasion which gave the glad tidings in following words: “Verily, We have laid open before you a manifest victory, so that God might show His forgiveness of all your sins, past as well as future, and bestow upon you the full measure of His blessings, and guide you on a straight path, and that God will aid you with a mighty victory” (Quran 48:1-3).

During this Ramzan, as Satan is shut, let us shut our own desires too. Let us shut our urge to inadvertently hurt others by being careless. Pakistan was established in Ramzan-ul-Mubarak, and inshā’Allāh, we’ll succeed in defeating COVID-19 during this Ramzan. We just need to be careful and continue to be cognizant of who we are and who our COVID-19 enemy really is. We need to fully take the control. We can only do that by continuing to be careful so that at the end of Ramzan, we can celebrate a double Eid, an Eid to celebrate all the blessings in this Ramzan and also an Eid from the liberation of COVID-19 pandemic.

The very love of Allah SWT, the very desire to act on one’s reason to be born, to do ibaadat, has met a challenge during this Ramzan-ul-Mubarak. Let us be a tad bit more careful, for a bit longer lest the flood gates of people open for social gatherings for iftar, Eid shopping in malls or taraweeh in masajid during the remaining of the Ramzan and this lack of social distancing exponentially explode contraction of virus on a massive scale.

So, let us all, take this transient retreat and instead of risking others, make millions of mosques in our own homes until we have passed this pandemic.

The Denouement: The Art of “COVID-19” War!

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War!

The aftermaths of COVID-19, may they be economic or psychosocial, will require drastic yet concerted efforts since the road to recovery will definitely be long and bumpy. “Himmat-e-mardan, maddad-e-Khuda!”. The many great initiatives that are currently being taken domestically or in collaboration with our expatriates would not do much to curb this pandemic unless we all first do what is in our hands and reach.

Scientific data and epidemiologic observations have revealed the SARS-CoV-2 as the deadly and unforgiving enemy. We know the enemy. We must know ourselves now and merely knowing would not suffice any longer. We must also step up to the occasion and responsibly deliver what is expected of us as devout Muslims at this critical juncture.

Neither Pakistan nor Pakistanis will ever want to “succumb” in this COVID-19 battle. We’ll come out of it with our heads high, minimal loss, and eager to robustly self-transform into an even more united and resilient nation than ever before! But to get there, we need to be wary of the fact that we are an overtly emotional nation which at times blindly follows practices that may in fact be in contrast with the actual spirit of Islam and against the very principles delineated in our supreme manual, The Holy Quran.

Thus, with this lenience in the lockdown – it is high time and all the more imperative for us that we must tune our individual taqwa to a level where taking precautionary measures by wholeheartedly adopting an interim intervention during this Ramzan: “Praying to Allah, on a homebound musallah”. Adoption of such a principle would not only be most desirable to Allah SWT since this continued social distancing amidst this COVID-19 pandemic will save innumerable sacred human lives but it will be in accordance with both the letter and spirit of one of the basic principles of Islamic Fiqh, “Al-Masalah-e-Mursula” – The Considerations of Public Interest ‘or’ The Common Good!


The author, Dr. Cheema, is a graduate from Aga Khan University Medical College and currently holds a dual faculty position as an Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences as well as an Associate Professor of Clinical Sciences at University of Houston College of Medicine, Houston, Texas. He also directs research for a consortium of hospitals in USA and has led efforts focused on convalescent plasma therapy as well as using Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) to combat COVID-19. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/doccheema/ Email: [email protected] Twitter Handle: @DocCheema


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