Balancing science and public policy in Pakistan’s COVID-19 response

Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, Faisal Sultan, Aamer Ikram, Adil Haider, Assad Hafeez, Muhammad Islam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected the world in an unprecedented manner and South Asian countries were among the first to experience imported cases. Pakistan’s response to COVID-19 has been under scrutiny for its granularity, reach and impact. Aims: to evaluate objectively the chronology and depth of the response to COVID-19 in Pakistan. Methods: We evaluated available national and subnational epidemiological and burden information on COVID-19 cases and deaths in Pakistan, including projection models available to the Government at an early stage of the pandemic. Results: Pakistan, with a population of 215 million and considerable geographic diversity, experienced case introduction from pilgrims returning from the Islamic Republic of Iran, followed by widespread community transmission. The National Command and Operations Centre, established through civilian and military partnership, was critical in fast tracking logistics, information gathering, real-time reporting and smart lockdowns, coupled with a massive cash support programme targeting the poorest sections of society. Cases peaked in June 2020 but the health system was able to cope with the excess workload. Since then, although testing rates remain low (> 300 000 cases confirmed to date), case fatality rates have stabilized, and with 6300 deaths, Pakistan seems to have flattened the COVID-19 curve. Conclusion: Despite notable successes in controlling the pandemic, several weaknesses remain and there are risks of rebound as the economy and educational systems reopen. There is continued need for strong technical and programmatic oversight, linked to civic society engagement and working with religious scholars to ensure nonpharmacological intervention compliance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)798-805
Number of pages8
JournalEastern Mediterranean Health Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


  • COVID-19
  • Disease surveillance
  • Mitigation strategies
  • Nonpharmacological interventions
  • Pakistan


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