On March 14, when some 880 pilgrims suspected of contracting the novel coronavirus reached Pakistani eastern city of Dera Ghazi Khan from Iran, Nauman Hussain Chaudhry was among the team of 46 healthcare providers and janitorial staff assigned duties in an isolation center established about 20 km away from the central city for the pilgrims.

"We conducted screening and testing of COVID-19 suspects, and the results were positive for many of them. While treating coronavirus positive patients, we also decided to send our samples to laboratory for testing. Upon receiving my lab report on April 5, I came to know that I was among 14 doctors whose tests came positive," Chaudhry, who works at Teaching Hospital Dera Ghazi Khan, told Xinhua.

"Though we were wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE) while dealing with coronavirus patients, many doctors on visiting rounds, nurses and the janitorial staff had been using basic face mask and a pair of gloves at the quarantine, and possibly got infected with the virus, later transmitting it to others in close contact," said Chaudhry, who is also president of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) in Dera Ghazi Khan.

"It has been more than 10 days since I am in the isolation ward. Only hospital duty staff are allowed to visit me. There were some moments initially when I experienced anxiety and depression, but I have mastered to stay strong with each passing day. You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have," he said.

But the brave doctor is determined to return to work soon after recovery and save his fellow countrymen from the threat of this dangerous pandemic.

"I do not feel any fear. We (doctors) do not have to risk our life all the times, and it happens less often like this. I have seen the condition of my patients, and there were times when I became their last hope," he said.

Chaudhry is not alone in this battle against the invisible enemy. Lots of other medical professionals are at the forefront of Pakistan's fight against the virus, which is posing major health and economic challenges to a country of over 200 million people.

Since the COVID-19 cases emerged, Talha Hashmi, a physician, has been working in night shift in isolation wards at Benazir Bhutto Hospital, in Rawalpindi. For his and others' safety, he has personally arranged protective suits, gloves and goggles for himself to change at the hospital before entering isolation wards to treat patients.

"Things have drastically changed after the outbreak of the disease. I have never been so cautious about my safety and well-being. It really has become extremely challenging job as I have to work more than normal hours supervising screening of suspected patients, treating virus positive patients as well as attending meetings to coordinate and further improve our work," Hashmi told Xinhua.

"I have also sent my family to my hometown in eastern Punjab province as I am in direct contact with corona positive patients daily. I don't want to put their lives at risk. It has been a month and a half since I last saw them."

Hashmi's family is his biggest support in these times of crisis and they encouraged him to go and serve for the sake of humanity.

"They tell me to do all this without being worried about the possibility of getting life threatening infection," said Hashmi.

It is not just him who is risking his life to serve the people of Pakistan. Every doctor, nurse, and other paramedical staff are going above and beyond the call of the duty to safeguard precious lives, he said.

"This is not a favor we are doing to anyone. As doctors, we take an oath to give our best efforts to save those we can, so this is our responsibility to do as much as we can," the physician said.

Pakistan has lost two doctors in the battle against the virus so far, whereas more than 100 doctors and paramedical staff are infected, according to health officials in the country.

Talking to media personnel recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said that the number of cases have been increasing in the country and further spread could put a lot of pressure on hospitals and medical community in the coming days.

"Right now our main objectives are protecting medical professionals and striking a balance between curbing the spread of the virus and keeping our economy afloat," Khan said.

The novel coronavirus has been wreaking havoc across the globe, but the challenges in developing countries like Pakistan are different. The country has a very limited supply of PPE for doctors and paramedical staff. The number of hospital beds, intensive care units and ventilators are insignificant in comparison to the population, according to public health experts in the country.

Despite plethora of challenges, the Pakistani government is taking all possible measures in its best capacity to protect healthcare professionals and equip hospitals with necessary equipment. Pakistan has procured a large amount of medical gears, ventilators and testing kits from around the world since the emergence of the epidemic.

The country also received medical supplies from various countries especially from China, which was quick to send tons of protective suits, masks, testing kits, and ventilators following an urgent call for help from Pakistan. A team of eight Chinese doctors also came to Pakistan to share their experience and expertise with Pakistani counterparts for the prevention and control of the epidemic.

In a conversation with Xinhua, Lubna Ansari Baig, a public health expert, said that Pakistan was in dire need of medical supplies for the frontline medical workers when the disease broke out in the country late February, and China was the only country which took no time to deliver supplies to Pakistan.

"Our main goal should be to minimize the spread of this virus as our health system will not be able to tolerate the worse consequences. Even the countries with well-equipped hospitals are unable to take the load due to incredible number of COVID-19 patients rushing to hospitals for treatment," she said.

To ensure an uninterrupted supply of PPE, masks and gloves, Ansari said the government should incentivize local textile and garment industries for the low-priced production of protective gears.

Provincial governments have been hiring new doctors and paramedical staff to overcome the shortage of medical staff. Other than new hiring, thousands of retired medical staff, including doctors and nurses, have registered for voluntary work to tackle the pandemic, she added.