Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can cause respiratory illness in humans. They get their name, “corona,” from the many crown-like spikes on the surface of the virus. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the common cold are some of the viruses that cause illness in humans. The number of people infected changes daily and the spread of this virus is increasing at an alarming rate. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought all nations together and on the same level. Only research can help us win the race against the deadly virus. Distinguished investigator, Professor Khalid Khan has dedicated his expertise for Pakistan where he is currently working with the advisor to Prime Minister Imran Khan on health emergency, Dr Ghazna Siddiqui in order to help the country and its esteemed consortium of doctors.

In his distinctive career, Dr Khalid Khan has earned many titles including Spinoza Professor at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Sims Black Professor at the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, and Beatriz Galindo Distinguished Investigator at the University of Granada in Spain. Having qualified from McMaster University, Canada, the University Of Dundee, UK, and the Aga Khan University, Karachi, Khalid is uniquely qualified as a researcher and educationalist in health. He is a Fellow of the UK Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Pakistani College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the UK Higher Education Academy. MAG got in touch with the proficient doctor to get some insights about the deadly virus which is spreading like wild-fire across the globe.

Covid-19 and the human body

With an extensive research for Covid-, we asked Dr Khalid to tell us about what this virus actually is and how harmful can it be for the human body. He explained, “The Covid- virus is, as many people say, like a flu virus, but it is new and there is so much that we still don't know about it. Much because a proportion of infected people are totally without symptoms, but others can be badly affected. It is dangerous because it is readily transmitted from person to person and in severe cases it can lead to long-term illness and even death.”

Upon asking about the symptoms to look for in order to know if a person is infected with this new variant of Covid-. He further explained, “Flu-like symptoms are common and loss of sense of smell is mainly a key feature.”

“The respiratory system can be badly affected,” he said when asked about the human organs which are most affected by the virus.

“Older people and those with chronic illnesses are more likely to be badly affected,” he responded when asked about the people who are at higher risk for serious illness if they get Covid-19.

The Delta variant

The Delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80 per cent of new cases nationwide and has been detected in more than 90 countries. The biggest difference between the Delta variant and other strains is that it is significantly more contagious. With us popping question on how the Delta variant is different from all the previous variants, the doctor exclaimed, “Corona viruses change continuously and very rapidly; the changes may be associated with more severe illness.”

Covid- 19 and its vaccine

According to the doctor, “Vaccinated individuals can get Covid- but are expected to have less severe illness.”

We further asked about some of the common side effects of the Covid-19 vaccine. For which he said, “Some aches and pains are common after the vaccine injection but these respond well to simple pain killers like Paracetamol.”

Precautions to be taken

As the virus is rapidly spreading, what should be the precautions taken by the public? To which he explained, “Face coverings, social distancing, hand hygiene, vaccination, avoiding overcrowding, confinement in case of illness are all important steps. Pakistan has actively participated in vaccination research and this backdrop has set the stage for protection through prevention. However, one cannot lax on basics such as social distancing and masks. These are fundamental requirements. We need to remember, vaccination does not automatically prevent person to person transmission.”

Covid-19 and women

Upon inquiring whether the vaccine is of any harm for pregnant women and lactating mothers? Dr Khalid told, “There is much we don't know about vaccination as it is being given under emergency licenses, but official bodies state that it is safe in pregnancy and lactation. Various professional bodies reassure mothers that vaccination is safe. As vaccination has now been going on for several months across the world, there are more data available than we had at the start of the vaccination programmes. It's important to be aware that during the Covid pandemic, vaccination has happened quickly and is being administered under emergency licenses. This is not the usual procedure. This is happening because we lack safety and other sorts of data that are available in usual circumstances. The Covid pandemic is not a usual circumstance. Post-vaccination, surveillance is an essential part of data collection to continuously re-evaluate health policies.”

Is it true that the vaccines can have an effect on a woman’s menstrual cycle? If so, is it something to be concerned about? He said, “It is important to understand that no amount of medical education could prepare doctors for the pandemic without competence in research. It was only in Jan 2020 that I had strongly advised Pakistani medical students to engage in research. What followed after is still continuing, i.e. the pandemic took hold as a brand new illness. Doctors are as knowledgeable as people, no more. In this situation, unequipped with the capacity to critically appraise information, doctors are just as vulnerable to the power of myth and media as the general public. Only research conducted with honesty and integrity and published after peer-review will be information. The rest is at best hypothesis if not plainly misinformation. Reproductive and menstrual function is probably affected by stress as much as or possibly even more than by any direct effect of the coronaviruses or their vaccines. We all need to stay as calm as possible and keep going. This is easier said than done.”

How is Pakistan responding to Covid-19?

On asking what measures are being taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19 within the country, Dr Khalid was of the opinion that thorough vaccination drives and reasonable restrictions being put with respect to the movement of people are surely some helpful steps that are to be looked upon.

“Obviously, the key thing about cutting down the risk of another wave is the prevention of transmission from one to another. The recommendations include: social distancing, use of masks, testing, quarantine of positive cases, treatment of cases and vaccination, amongst others. There is no single magic bullet. Effort at every battle front is necessary using each and all of the above preventive interventions.”

Reagarding how is Pakistan's response to Covid- in comparison to other developed countries and is he satisfied with the measures taken, he said, “As the sixth largest country in the world, Pakistan faces a great challenge. Participation in the Covid- research and vaccination has been particularly recognised as some of the things that we have done well within our means.”

Pakistan’s capability of Covid research

Khalid is the lead author of Systematic Reviews to Support Evidence-based Medicine, which won a British Medical Association Medical Book award. It is available in English, Chinese and German languages. Khalid is the former Editor-in-Chief of British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and Editor of Evidence-based Medicine-British Medical Journal, and BioMedCentral Medical Education. His editorial initiative, Core Outcomes in Women’s and Newborn Health (CROWN), won the BMA Strutt and Harper award.

As an accomplished researcher, Dr Khalid focuses on holding the Covid- research big time and thinks that we can only battle the virus affectively if the research is done proficiently. Currently, Dr Khalid Khan is a member of the Pakistan government's coronavirus scientific task force which collectively assesses evidence and advises on activities to respond to the ongoing challenges.

When asked about where our country stands when it comes to conducting detailed researches about Covid- as other countries are doing, he told, “Our strongest research contribution has come from engagement, consent and recruitment of large numbers, thousands, of people into studies across the country.”