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LAHORE, May 27: The federal government has reportedly ‘turned down’ a request of the Punjab health department to procure 24 new cold rooms at a cost of Rs73.8 million to maintain quality of the vaccines.

The issue has surfaced at a time when the Punjab government plans a mass campaign against measles in 11 high risk districts in June amid reports that the cold chain is in a state of disrepair, which means that there is no guarantee about the quality and efficacy of the vaccine, even if it is procured in time.

An official privy to the information told Dawn the proposal was sent through the Federal Expended Programme on Immunization (EPI) after the health authorities found its eight cold rooms ‘old and rusty’ which might leave doubts on the ‘cold chain system’ if not replaced timely. He said the existing in-question cold rooms had been installed in the 1980s.

The official said the new cold rooms were to be purchased through the Unicef. Each 40 cubic meter cold room will cost Rs3.6 million and 10 cubic meter Rs2.7million.

Of the 24 cold rooms, 10 rooms were to be installed at provincial level and 14 at district level. Each cold room has capacity to preserve 2 to 4 million vaccines.

He said the Punjab health department had submitted a PC-I to the Federal EPI through Planning and Development Department (P&D) in October 2012. The request was still pending with the Planning Commission.

The official said that the Planning Commission had recently refused to process the same and put this matter at the disposal of the ‘new government’ ignoring the fact that the rising temperature in June and July might affect the quality of the vaccines.

“It is the second similar nature request of the Punjab government which has met with same fate”, the official regretted.

Earlier, he said, the Punjab government had asked the federal government to hand it over 10 out of 18 cold rooms in EPI Cell, Islamabad, for storage of bulk quantities of procured vaccines and syringes.

These logistics were required to handle bulk quantities of vaccine, syringes and other equipment in the extremely hot weather.

The new request of 24 cold rooms was submitted on the recommendations of the experts who were of the view that the measles outbreak usually surfaced in May and June and maintenance of quality of the vaccine in huge quantity from the cold rooms to the end user (target children) would be a challenging task in extremely hot weather.

Punjab Health Director-General Tanveer Ahmad said that the department was in dire need of 24 new ‘cold rooms’ to maintain the efficacy of the vaccine, syringes and other equipment.

He said the cold rooms were to be utilized for the next three years and the Punjab government had allocated an amount for the purpose.

At present, he said 22 cold rooms were functional at the districts level while 10 in Lahore alone. He said of them eight cold rooms were installed in 1980s which wasted time and money for repair.

He said the government had finalized a plan at the provincial level while micro plans at district level were under discussion to launch mass measles campaign at 11 high risk districts in June.

He said the Punjab government had sent many reminders to the federal government for the approval of PC-I to ensure timely provision of cold rooms. He said the caretaker government was reluctant to finalize the scheme.

Dr Tanvir said apparently the matter had been left to the next government.