Pakistan’s first COVID-19 patient: “Please, please stay at home”

  • COVID-19 patient in Pakistan contracted the coronavirus in late February and was in isolation days later.
  • “The symptoms and the severity of the disease were very high. I felt pain in my whole body. I couldn’t move my hands. The 10 days of quarantine… were very tough.”
  • First patient urges to “please, please say at home, ovey social distancing, do proper hygiene, wear masks and gloves if you have them and wash your hands regularly.”

KARACHI. The spread of COVID-19 in Pakistan to date has been relatively sedate but that does not mean it will stay that way. Overpopulated and under-resourced, Pakistan is preparing for the possibility of an explosion of cases.

The first known confirmed case was that of Yaha Jafari, a 22-year-old man who contracted the virus while travelling in neighbouring Iran in mid-February. Jafari is single and lives at home where he has three siblings. He is a political science student at the University of Karachi.

Jafari was not only the first patient to recover from the COVID-19 coronavirus but also the first one to give blood plasma for use as treatment by other seriously ill coronavirus patients, according to Dr Tahir Shamsi Yahya, the chairman of the National Institute of Blood Disease.

Almost a month and a half after Jafari was diagnosed and treated, Pakistan has recorded more than 13,200 cases and 281 deaths. Jafari spoke to Anticentric about his experience as Pakistan’s first recovered patient.

Anticentric: How did you contract the virus?

Jafari: On February 18, I was in Qum, a city in Iran, on a pilgrimage when I had symptoms of headache, fever, vomiting and whole-body aches. I thought it was the aftermath of cupping therapy but after a while I had realised it was not from that. I went to a nearby hospital where a doctor gave me pills. After 24 hours I felt better, so I took a flight and landed back in Pakistan on February 20.

Anticentric: When did you get the diagnosis that you were positive for coronavirus?

Jafari: After I returned to Pakistan, I resumed university. After five days, on February 25, I again was hit by headaches, weakness, fever and vomiting so my family doctor adviced me to take a blood test for complete blood count (CBC) and coronavirus. February 26 was the toughest day of my life when I found out I was a a victim of the coronavirus.

Earlier, I had received a call from health department of the government of Sindh and around 5 pm I was moved to Aga Khan University Hospital. I was put into an isolation ward all alone.

Anticentric: This is a fast moving communicable disease. Do you know if you passed it to other people in your family or friends, schoolmates, or others?

Jafari: The very next day after I went into isolation, a team from the health department went to my house and took samples from my parents and siblings. Authorities also took details of my contacts and friends. They did more than 150 tests for coronavirus and, by the grace of Almighty Allah, no one came back positive.

Anticentric: How severe was the diseases and what was the treatment like?

Jafari: The symptoms and the severity of the disease were very high. I felt pain in my whole body. I couldn’t move my hands. The 10 days of quarantine at Aga Khan University Hospital were very tough. A team of doctors started my treatment and my vitals were checked almost every hour. The prime objective was to boost my immunity. They gave me warm baths, healthy food and fruits. I am thankful to Almighty Allah that my lungs were not affected and I recovered.

Anticentric: How was the government’s response?

Jafari: The response from Health Department of the Government of Sindh was very good and impressive. Every day I received a call from a district health officer who asked about my health and the facilities. I must say the government has to do more and more tests so the maximum number of people can be filtered for the disease. I am also urging people to please, please stay at your home, obey social distancing, do proper hygiene, wear masks and gloves if you have them and wash your hands regularly.

Anticentric: Being young and a public university student, did your hospitalisation cause you or your family economic pain?

Jafari: I was lucky enough to get timely treatment and I am also thankful to the Government of Sindh and the health department that all the expenses were paid by the government.

[NOTE: The cost of quarantine in a private sector hospital is around PKR30,000 (US$190). The median household income in Pakistan is a little above US$4,000 per year.]

Anticentric: What did you do after being released?

Jafari: After I was discharged from hospital I heard the news that there is a chance of treatment in the form of passive immunization. I discussed this with my family and decided to give by blood plasma for needy coronavirus patients.