COVID-19 has rapidly spread around the world impacting economies, healthcare systems and daily life. The challenges that it poses are real and consequential. To help policymakers and donors better understand the impact on Asia’s social sector, CAPS (virtually) sat down with our partners across the region to understand the challenges they are grappling with, the strategies they are employing to contain the fallout and their take on the future of the social sector.
To discuss this impact and catalog how Pakistan’s social sector is responding, we spoke with Shazia Amjad, Executive Director of the Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy (PCP) on 15 April 2020. Established in 2001 as a nonprofit government support organization, PCP is primarily a certification agency and has served as a diligent partner for the Doing Good Index since 2018.
CAPS: Shazia, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. The impact of Covid-19 is being felt across the region and by the social sector in particular. How has the pandemic affected Pakistan and PCP? How are you as an organization responding to it?
Shazia: In times of need, Pakistanis are known to display their true colors—of generosity and care—and this pandemic is no different. All actors, government, corporations, and civil society are going out of their way to support vulnerable populations in weathering this storm.
PCP’s income has taken a hit: it’s down to one-fourth of its normal level. We are also expecting fewer nonprofits to apply for certification as their resources get stressed. But operationally, we’re working hard on cataloging how different actors are stepping up and even helping coordinate their efforts. We’ve also been sending a Covid-19-themed newsletter to our network.
CAPS: Given the economic impact of the outbreak, how is the government supporting vulnerable populations?
Shazia: The Prime Minister, Imran Khan, announced earlier in April that the Ehsaas program would disburse PKR144 billion (approximately US$890 million) to 12 million families. This effort is being regarded as the single largest social protection scheme in the country’s history.
Launched in March 2019, the objective of the Ehsaas program is to reduce inequality, invest in people, and lift lagging districts. The program includes initiatives such as cash transfers, educational scholarships, ration distribution and rural enterprise value chain development, to name a few.
CAPS: You mentioned that corporations and civil society organizations are also stepping up. What have they been doing?
Shazia: The role of community-based organizations has been critical. They have come together on the frontlines to support populations battling this pandemic. Their services have included collecting and distributing rations and food items and providing financial support to day laborers.
Multilateral and aid organizations are prioritizing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to stem the rate of infections. Pakistan has also been receiving resources and aid from China including medical kits and ventilators in addition to financial support.
Corporations are playing a role, too. PepsiCo and S&P Global committed US$600,000 to us and Give2Asia for distributing rations. We will be able to help over 25,000 families across 30 districts with this donation.
CAPS: Across the region, we’ve seen healthcare systems tested as a result of the outbreak. How has Pakistan’s healthcare system been coping during this time?
Shazia: Pakistan’s healthcare capacity is severely limited. The government spends less than 1% of GDP on healthcare and there are 0.6 hospital beds per 1000 people—one of the lowest rates in the world. With the increased burden of Covid-19, further cracks are appearing in the system. Ventilators and personal protective equipment have been in short supply and testing capacity remains limited, though it is rising. To its credit, however, the government is setting up isolation wards by converting convention centers and hotels.
CAPS: Where will Pakistan’s social sector be once the pandemic is over?
Shazia: I hope the impact can be minimal but the evidence we’re seeing right now suggests the opposite. The incomes of corporations and donors are under stress which will take a toll on CSR programs and nonprofits’ budgets.