The former Pakistani health minister speaks to the School of Public Health

Faisal Sultan, who oversaw his government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussed the use of data and centralization of government policies.

Viswanathan turns

26:36, October 26, 2022

Collaborating journalist



Yale Daily News

When the COVID-19 pandemic began raging around the world in 2020, Faisal Sultan found himself in the midst of the crisis. As health minister and special advisor to the prime minister, Sultan was responsible for coordinating Pakistan’s response to the emerging pandemic.

Two years later, Sultan visited the Yale School of Public Health to share lessons learned from his experience overseeing Pakistan’s COVID-19 efforts as part of the Yale Institute for Global Health’s ongoing “Global Health Conversation Series”.

In an October 26 public discussion moderated by Yale Institute for Global Health director Saad Omer, Sultan described the challenges Pakistan faced in coordinating a centralized response to the pandemic and the data-based methods the country has applied to combat the pandemic. spread of the disease.

“I think, in general, people have a low expectation of a public health response, whereas in this case I think it was a good response and the public believes it is,” Sultan told The News. “I think it’s very important to share the positive parts of our story.”

To date, according to the World Health Organization, Pakistan had 1,573,725 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 30,624 deaths. A total of 313,046,883 doses of the vaccine were administered, an effort that Sultan was involved in supervising.

The “Global Health Conversation Series” aims to introduce “today’s key decision makers in the world of global health,” according to Michael Skonieczny, deputy director of the Yale Institute of Global Health and one of the organizers of the event. The talks are co-sponsored by the Yale Institute for Global Health and a fund from the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, according to Omer, the series’ focus has shifted to the challenges and responses of COVID-19. Past speakers include former Secretary of State John Kerry ’66 and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to the president.

“Given Dr. Sultan’s role as Pakistan’s former health minister, we wanted to better understand the challenges and lessons learned in responding to a pandemic in a federally devolved health system,” Skonieczny wrote to the News. “We also wanted to have an internal view of the response to a global crisis and the leadership lessons that can be learned.”

During the speech, Sultan, who completed his medical major at the University of Connecticut and completed a rotation at Yale, described his experience leading Pakistan’s pandemic response. He noted that Pakistan performed “better” relative to other countries of similar size and health care facilities, stressing the importance of a centralized and federally coordinated pandemic response that was “consistent, data-driven and flexible. “.

Sultan highlighted how Pakistan took a data-centric approach to its pandemic response in real time: COVID-19 testing, vaccine positivity and distribution were linked to the national registration and digital ID of Pakistani citizens. Pakistan’s pandemic response team also used cell phone data to geolocate COVID-19 cases and generate heat maps of COVID-19 hotspots.

“One of the most important things was to have real-time data,” said Sultan. “We were able to understand the presence of the disease because it was labeled. Several other large federal-structured countries have suffered a lot and, compared to them, I think we have come out ahead. “

However, Sultan identified the challenges associated with Pakistan’s response. While Pakistan has attempted to use geographic data to create isolated “smart blocks” in specific neighborhoods, Sultan reflects that such specificity could have “been put in a little earlier”. She noted that her team could have better communicated to the public “why”, a rationale for the pandemic measures.

Sultan also detailed the political obstacles associated with communicating the science of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coordinating a federal response to the pandemic with Pakistan’s provincial governments initially proved difficult due to parties and officials with differing perspectives.

“There was a full rainbow of colors when it comes to the holidays,” said Sultan. “People who sang different tunes were a challenge at first. Conversations, contacts and professional conversations between peers have brought together opinions and points of view “.

For Sofia Rabbani ’25, an in-person participant in the hybrid event, Sultan’s conversation highlighted the differences between responses to the pandemic in Pakistan and the United States from an insider’s perspective.

Rabbani told The News that he found the opportunity to hear a high-level public health official “get rich.” He noted the importance of listening from a health perspective outside the United States, a theme that Sultan also told on the news he hoped to convey at the event.

“I think the conversations on campus on these topics are often centered around the United States (which makes sense) and other major world powers,” Rabbani wrote to the News, “but a country like Pakistan (which had a very different system to work with) is a really important perspective to focus on in discussions of global health and global crises like COVID-19 ”.

The Yale School of Public Health is located at 60 College Street.

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