Taimur Saleem Jhagra explains the government’s strategy to control the deadly pandemic
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the various administrative jurisdictions in Pakistan, it has had the highest fatality rate.
Talking to The News on Sunday, Minister for Health and Finance Taimur Saleem Khan Jhagra, however, claims that the province has perfected its strategy to control the contagion now.“The number of corona-related deaths is declining now,” he says.
Jhagra, who hails from a famous political family in Peshawar, has done an MBA from London Business School and a BS in mechanical engineering from Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology. From 2002 to 2017 he worked overseas in the corporate sector.
The minister recalls that on May 1, Covid-19 had claimed 137 lives in KP, 100 in Sindh, 103 in the Punjab, four in Islamabad and three in Balochistan.
“The data for July so far shows that the number deaths from Covid now stands at 1,215 in KP, 2,245 in Sindh, 2,162 in the Punjab, 167 in Islamabad, and 136 in Balochistan. The KP is in better control of the virus,” he says.
Explaining the higher number of cases in the beginning, he says that many people from KP work abroad, mostly in Gulf countries. He says some of them had brought the virus to the province. “This is why the situation in the province was alarming in the beginning.”
He says there has been a considerable decline in the number of patients coming to public sector hospitals.
“Currently, only 14 per cent of the ICU beds are occupied, 11 per cent of HDU beds and just 6 per cent the ventilators are in use. I believe that control of the contagion became possible due to the joint efforts of health department and the district administration who were supported by the military,” Jhagra says.
To a question about lack of oxygen and other facilities in tribal areas at the start of the pandemic, he says, “In the beginning, there was a shortage of oxygen across the country because the pandemic overburdened the hospitals, facilities and infrastructure. However, the situation is under control now.”
Jhagra denies that health sector reforms introduced by the government have created problems in the functioning of state-run hospitals. “All reforms are resisted in the beginning. Some people might think that PM Imran Khan has favoured Nowsherwan Burki. In fact, Burki is a qualified professional brought to the country to improve the health delivery system. He was made head of the board of KP’s largest public sector hospital, the Lady Reading Hospital,” he says.
Responding to criticism against Burki for having left for the US amidst the corona pandemic, Jhagra says that Burki could not return to Pakistan because flight operations had been suspended in the US due to coronavirus.
Besides health, Jhagra holds the finance portfolio. To a question about the financial situation in the province, he says that not only KP, but the entire world is in the midst of a recession because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Financial reforms are the key to improving economy of the province. In the recent budget, we tried to cut costs and allocate money to appropriate areas,” he claims.
“It is also the need of the hour to encourage the private sector and resolve the pensions issue. The government had set the retirement age at 63 as part of the financial reform agenda, but that decision was annulled by the court. Now, the province will have to pay an additional Rs 20 billion annually,” he says.
Jhagra is considered to be the brains behind the 100-day plan of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government. When asked if the plan had failed for being too ambitious, the minister says the plan was only a blueprint.
“In many areas, we have had success. In others, we would have liked to do more. Ambitious targets were set deliberately; we must stretch ourselves,” he says.
Jhagra’s family has long been associated with politics. His grandfather, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, was a senator and then president of Pakistan. “Even my close relatives did not like my decision to resign from a well-paid job in an international consulting firm, McKinsey. The only thing brought me to Pakistan was that I wanted to serve my people.”
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar and a PhD candidate. He tweets @peoplefriendly