Impossible To Deal With Health Emergencies Without Proper Legislation
It is no secret that Pakistan lacks proper legal frameworks to deal with emergency situations. As the Covid-19 cases continue to multiply, many have called for proper procedures to be implemented for the containment of the virus, quarantining of patients and citywide lockdowns. But how to implement these procedures?
A country’s capability to respond to a disaster is not gauged by its ability to avoid disasters since many are unavoidable but by its ability to deal with those disasters. This relies heavily on procedural frameworks.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is home to no such procedural framework. This lack of standard operating procedures leads to directionless and ineffective efforts that can neither stall the disaster nor confront it. Closing of the trading centers and malls at 10 PM instead of keeping them closed altogether highlights how confused and lost the administration is and this is due to the lack of procedural frameworks.
Pakistan’s legislative process has been repeatedly interrupted by military takeovers and power struggles between politicians, leaving a void in health legislation. There are no standard procedures in order to deal with pandemics. Even now the parliament remains oblivious to the need of medical health legislation as the country faces the first pandemic since its inception and despite having such absolute proof of administration’s failure, the legislative is failing to answer the call to formulate a framework which would provide some direction to the executive.
In this manner, we must draw inspiration from the US legislative which has seen it fit to have ample legislation regarding methods of containment of a viral infection as well as the procedures relating to lockdowns, ranging from minimal lockdowns for small periods to extreme ones for long periods.
The ‘Public Health Service Act’ is the most important among these laws because it empowers the department of ‘Health and Human Services’ to announce emergencies, hold health meetings, assist and direct states to implement health emergency and create a strategic national stockpile. In fact, under section 319 of the PHS act, they are empowered to declare any disease or disorder as a danger to public health, announce national health emergency, order further research into disease and take necessary steps including entering into contracts to contain a pandemic.
Section 1135 of the ‘Social Security Act’ states that the department is empowered to ensure sufficient medical equipment is available during a public health emergency. The ‘Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act’ provides for immunity from liability for claims of loss resulting from usage of measures employed by administration during the countering of an outbreak.
The most important of course is section 361 of the PHS Act which explains the procedures and powers given to the department to take measures to prevent the entry of diseases from foreign countries as well as its spread among the states. The department works alongside CDC (Center for Disease Control) to implement such actions.
With the above, it is clear that no matter what, the US administration will not find itself lost in times of an emergency outbreak since most of the procedures and actions are part of the framework. In comparison, Pakistan remains lost since there exist no such legislative frameworks which may help the administration in dealing with a health emergency.
In this regard, the prime minister in his address to the nation about Coronavirus is absolutely correct that the country cannot deal with the outbreak and cannot order citywide lockdowns or even curtail inter-provincial travel since all such actions require preparation and framework which Pakistan simply does not have. It has no Strategic National Stockpile policy and the only legislations regarding stockpiling are related to dealing with food crisis and foreign invasions. It does not have any standard operating procedures in relation to implementing lockdown procedures.
The executive and the legislative will always do what they are brought into power to do by the masses. The people elect legislative members to do administrative works like building of roads or sewage lines and that is what they do since any negligence on these accounts is not tolerated by the people. The elected representatives then focus more on the budgets for administrative work rather than bring forth proper legislation to combat any legal loopholes that may hamper the process of dealing with outbreaks of such nature. We, as the people, must ask our legislators the questions relating to the legislation because as long as we don’t, we must be prepared to share equal blame for what is happening to us.