COVID-19 has been declared as a “global pandemic” by the World Health Organization. Mankind has not been prepared for a situation like this in at least 100 years (considering the last pandemic of such magnitude was the Spanish flu that outbroke in 1918). Due to mass contagion, healthcare systems around the world are choking. In order to prevent healthcare sector’s collapse, experts around the world have recommended “social distancing”. This means that entire cities, not just few areas, have to undergo stringent lockdowns.
In developing countries like Pakistan, this situation poses like a double-edged sword. On one hand we have under-resourced healthcare system and on the other, we have a recovering economy. Therefore, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s vision has been to enforce a “smart lockdown” amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thus, the current Government of Pakistan has been incorporating technology to develop efficient mechanisms across various sectors to overcome the challenges during Covid-19.
Such a digital transformation especially at government level in such a brief period of time is unprecedented
Multiple databases and mobile apps along with the initiative of Corona Relief Tigers Force for public assistance, have been launched by Government; quite unlike any national or social relief projects currently seen around the globe. Keeping in view Pakistan’s tug of war between a pandemic and an economic crisis, the developed Apps cater to these two areas respectively.
Here’s a list of all the initiatives taken by PTI government utilizing technology
Ehsaas Emergency Cash Assistance program: Phase I and II.
Immediately after the implementation of the lockdown, the Government of Pakistan launched Ehsaas SMS campaign asking citizens to text their CNIC for checking eligibility for Ehsaas Emergency Cash scheme. Government received approximately 38 million SMS for financial assistance in the backdrop of the unemployment resulting from the pandemic.
The said program had two categories under which one-time assistance was announced to be provided to the beneficiaries. Phase I, allocated with Rs. 144 billion catered the currently enrolled, 4.5 million Kafaalat beneficiary families who received a lump sum of PKR 12,000 covering the period of four months. Whereas, in the second round the beneficiaries are to be identified through “National Socioeconomic Database”, NADRA and respective district governments, after which they will be entitled to receive a lump sum of PKR 12,000.
In Phase II, Prime Minister Imran Khan launched Labour Portal with NADRA through which unregistered, unemployed daily wagers will be identified and assisted through a Rs. 75 billion package.
Ehsaas Emergency Cash Assistance program is funded by the Government of Pakistan, and the donations of Pakistani citizens. A staggering amount via two Ehsaas Telethons was collected, bringing the total fund to more than PKR 2.76 billion. Apart form this, the Government has recruited an overwhelming number of unemployed daily wagers as members of “Clean Green Pakistan campaign” as well under which those out-of-job labors get Rs. 500 per day to plant trees under the Billion Tree Tsunami project.
Be it earthquake of 2005 or flood of 2010, or any other calamity, Pakistanis have always been generous in donating for the relief efforts to help the ones in distress. But more often than not, relief efforts accumulate in a particular region and totally deprive another certain region. In order to avoid that, Ehsaas Rashan Portal is an initiative to bring all donors and charity organizations under one roof launched by government. After registration, donors and potential beneficiaries will be validated using the already obtained data of the Ehsaas Program. Prime Minister Imran Khan has also directed Union Councils to allot one desk to the volunteers of Corona Relief Tigers Force for registering those who are not educated, computer literate or don't have access to the internet facility. The database comprising of the needy will be shared with donors, areas where certain donors have channelized their relief efforts will be marked on maps to let other donors know of what other areas to cater.
- Ehsaas Rashan portal
Qeemat App is an initiative of the Government of Punjab to control market prices of daily use items such as vegetables, fruits, and others listed by the government on a daily basis. This App can also be used for reporting hoarding and profiteering, for lodging complaints against substandard products being sold and easy tracing of non-compliers.
- Qeemat App
A joint venture of the civil-military leadership, this App is designed with the aid of ISI’s technical prowess in terms of intelligence collection. The TTQ strategy has been formulated to keep a check on the spread of COVID-19, as different sectors open up with the ease in lockdown. The TTQ strategy involves testing and tracing the contacts of COVID-19 positive cases in order to ensure their quarantining for limiting the spread of the disease.
- COVID-19 App for TTQ (Trace, track and Quarantine)
The Ministry of Health Services, in association with the National Information Technology Board (NITB), has launched a web portal where currently 424 hospitals equipped to battle COVID-19 have been registered. The hospitals have begun entering the data and will be expected to update the data regarding numbers of available beds in the ICU for COVID-19 patients, the total number of ventilators, total number of ventilators being used by both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients including the availability of other high priority medical equipment. The purpose is to monitor the live data and equip the hospitals accordingly.
- NITB’s portal for hospital resources.
Punjab Government has created an App for rescue 1122 ambulance drivers that will be live soon and will be accessible to common citizens as well. This App will allow the users to access information regarding the nearest ambulance and the nearest hospitals that are suitably equipped for COVID-19 treatment.
- Rescue 1122 ambulance App
Approximately 10 lac Pakistani citizens have registered for Tigers force. The mechanism of Tigers Force is a well structured and well integrated system that is efficiently linked on Federal, Provincial, District, Tehsil and local levels. The training sessions are underway, where the force has been currently deployed in Sialkot and will be shortly deployed around the country to engage in relief and welfare activities on various levels.
The Government of Pakistan is making full use of the technology to facilitate and serve the nation in times of a global medical and economic emergency. These measures have also been commended by World Health Organisation. Seeing such an efficient use of technology and relief efforts in challenging times like these due to Covid-19 makes one see the immense potential Pakistan has and how a truly Digital Pakistan is not merely a far-fetched dream now but rather a reality.
- Corona Tigers Relief Force
Blog post by Zainab Muhammad Shahid
Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/ZainabMS_Malik