6th March 2020, The Research Society of International Law (RSIL) recently organized a panel discussion with a focus on public health and the coronavirus in Pakistan. The event, titled “Facing a Global Health Emergency: The Coronavirus – Perspectives on Policy, Economics, and Law,” was designed to build awareness around international public health regimes, the responsibility of the state in protecting its citizens, and the potential economic fallout in Pakistan and abroad due to the outbreak. The event brought together experts from the medical and legal communities in Pakistan to discuss the challenges of identifying, containing, treating and eliminating the coronavirus, and its multi-focal impact on Pakistan.
The event commenced with an introduction of the organization by Ms. Hira Arif Riar, Senior Research Associate, who traced the evolution of RSIL as a research hub, to its current stature as the leading center for international law in Pakistan. Following Ms. Riar’s introduction, Ms. Noor Fatima, Junior Research Associate, introduced the topics of the event. Ms. Fatima provided an overview of the coronavirus outbreak, highlighting the importance of creating and implementing effective public health policies in order to contain the spread of the disease. The floor was then handed over to Mr. Ali Sultan, Vice President of RSIL, who performed the role of a moderator in the discussion.
The panelists included Mr. Ahmer Bilal Soofi, founding President of RSIL, who discussed the lack of a robust international legal framework pertaining to global health presently. Apart from Mr. Soofi, Dr. Haroon Jehangir, the Director-General Health Services in Punjab and the Focal Person for COVID-19 in the province provided invaluable insights pertaining to Pakistan’s preparedness in containing the coronavirus, and the challenges associated in terms of coordinating action. Head of Office, World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Jamshaid Ahmed as well as Dr. Ujala Nayyar, Surveillance Officer at WHO provided their perspective in the consequences of late reporting of the virus globally, and the necessity to bridge gaps between the health and the legal sectors to empower legislation that would provide for speedy responses to health crises at the federal and provincial levels. Finally, Mr. Haris Ramzan, provided keen observations during his time as Legal Advisor to the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department in Punjab – including issues pertaining to procuring funding for quarantine facilities and lack of bureaucratic buy-in in key healthcare policy decisions.
The event proceeded to answer questions from the audience – who comprised not just lawyers, but also students and practitioners from the medical profession. Topics such as youth advocacy, the possibility of bio-terrorism, and the hyper-influx of news around the outbreak were addressed by the expert panelists. The event concluded with remarks from Mr. Soofi, who also cited the need for further collaboration with key medical, legal and governmental actors in implementing an effective health regime in Pakistan to contain the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus in the future. All attendees received certificates at the end of the event, while the panelists received shields from Mr. Soofi for their participation and for sharing their insights at the event.