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COVID-19 vaccine to be available to only 20% population in Pakistan: Mirza

KARACHI: Dr Zafar Mirza, former Advisor to the Prime Minister on National Health Services, has said that the COVID-19 vaccine may be administered to only 20 percent of Pakistan’s population when the country would start receiving its supply by the end of the first quarter of 2021; however, he emphasized the need to follow the SOPs strictly.

Addressing at a Media Talk at the Karachi Press Club, Dr Mirza said that vaccination is not an alternative to the individual precautions. During the second wave, the general public does not follow the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in the same manner as they followed during the first wave of COVID-19.

He emphasized the need that the government has to take fool-proof measures that only deserving people get vaccination on a priority basis, and influential people do not take advantage of it. According to him, the COVID-19 vaccines would not be available in the private sector during the initial phase.

Pakistan is accessing the Global Alliance for Procurement of Vaccines. At least eight pharmaceutical companies are in the process of manufacturing coronavirus vaccines, and the Pakistani government is talking to some companies to purchase them. Until the Chinese vaccination is available, this would be available for front-line health workers.

There is a lack of coordination in the government departments and institutions during the second wave, he said, adding that there was an unwritten political consensus during the first wave, but it was missing in the second wave as the opposition’s political parties continued holding their rallies despite government’s ban. He agreed that the government political parties also held rallies during the Gilgit-Baltistan elections.

He was optimistic that the situation is becoming better, and the second wave is also receding. Deaths are reducing, and it is hoped that the second wave of the coronavirus may decline soon. He cautioned that the UK virus strand, which is said to be more rapid spreading, so people should continue observing SOPs. “It is premature to say whether it is more fatal or not, but we have to wear masks and observe social distancing.”

Dr Zafar Mirza said he has arrived in Karachi on a private visit by road. Unfortunately, there is a low rate of SOP implementation in the interior parts of the country. There is a need to increase the SOPs implementation by 70 percent more, he added.

In Pakistan, it is planned that by the first quarter of the new year, vaccines would be provided to the first line of health workers, doctors, nurses, and paramedics. Then above 60 people will receive COVID-19 vaccination. If the Chinese vaccine is available, it would be available for the general public as well.

Dr Mirza is also an Advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) on universal public health in Pakistan. According to him, the Government of Pakistan is not providing health services to more than 30 percent of the population. “Until we do not involve the private sector in healthcare, the situation would not be improved,” he added.

He said the public-private partnership is needed for universal coverage of health. National Health Card issuance is one of the steps which is provided to people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. In Sindh, this card was provided to people in Tharparkar districts. Disabled and transgenders are also being provided health cards on a priority basis, he added.

He said the WHO has established an important body called the Global Council for Health Financing. This will address the question of why governments are not spending on the health sector, especially in developing countries.

He said it is now an established fact that health is a factor of productivity, and it was essential to invest in human health.

Currently, he pointed out that health is not part of fundamental rights in Pakistan’s Constitution. A Constitutional Amendment is required to incorporate the right to health in the Constitution, he added. The National Essential Health Services Package has been devised to priorities health services in the public services, he said.

He said social health insurance for workers is being devised at both federal and provincial levels.

January 2, 2021

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