Punjab govt’s efforts to avert dengue outbreak in jeopardy

Updated 16 Jan 2020

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The Ministry of Commerce and Textile put up a proposal of the Punjab government in the federal cabinet that rejected it due to ban on trade with India. — Reuters/File
The Ministry of Commerce and Textile put up a proposal of the Punjab government in the federal cabinet that rejected it due to ban on trade with India. — Reuters/File

LAHORE: The federal government has refused to entertain the request of Punjab to allow it to import dengue insecticides from India to avert its outbreak through timely measures in the largest province of the country.

The dengue cases appear with the increase in temperatures and peak in March. Officials say Punjab is in dire need of drugs to avert the threat of outbreak/epidemic of the disease.

The Ministry of Commerce and Textile put up a proposal of the Punjab government in the federal cabinet that rejected it due to ban on trade with India. The Centre informed the Punjab government that Pakistan last year suspended bilateral trade with India and the federal cabinet (headed by the prime minister) endorsed the decision in reaction to the neighbouring country’s decision to revoke Article 370 of its Constitution that granted special status to the occupied Kashmir.

The Director General Health Services had sent a request to the ministry of commerce through the Punjab government for the import of dengue insecticides since Pakistan has not a single World Health Organization (WHO) qualified firm to manufacture and provide these to meet its requirements.

Ban on trade with India deprives country of importing insecticides

Punjab requested to import in finished form pesticides including 35,000 litres of Alpha-Cypermethrin at a cost of Rs99,750,000 ($648,375), 10,000-litre Lambda-Cyhalothriners

at a cost of Rs22,900,000 ($148,850), 30,000kg Temephos 1% Granules at Rs22,350,000 ($145,275) and 3,000-litre Temephos at Rs13,950,000 ($90,675).

“The refusal has come at a time when Punjab is in dire need of insecticides to prevent outbreak of dengue which wreaked havoc last year,” an official told Dawn. He said the dengue season peaked in March and Punjab had no stock to ward off the threat.

The bidding process could take a couple of months to ensure supply of the insecticides, he said. Being the only source for Pakistan, India had been offering insecticides at an affordable cost in the past to fight dengue through the drugs of a WHO-qualified firm, the official said.

The Punjab government had once made an attempt to engage international bidders from European countries to get the drugs but suspended the process when they quoted the staggering cost.

According to the WHO, there is no specific treatment for dengue infection but early detection and access to proper medical care lowers mortality. In addition, dengue prevention and control depends on effective vector control measures.

Quoting a federal government report on mosquito-borne disease during 2019, the official said, dengue claimed more than 90 lives and affected around 54,000 other people.

Sindh and Punjab remained the most affected provinces where dengue-related death toll was reported 46 and 23 respectively during 2019. There were 22 deaths in Islamabad. This was said to be the worst time during a period of one year across Pakistan after the outbreak of 2011.

“It is a disturbing decision by the Centre but as an alternative we are going to purchase the drugs through international bidding,” Punjab Director General Health Dr Mohsin Ali told Dawn. He said the international bidding process had been initiated inviting applications from the WHO pre-qualified firms for the procurement and supply of insecticides specified in the Section III, Schedule of Requirements & Technical Specifications.

He said that despite risks his department had no other option because of trade ban between Pakistan and India.

“The Punjab government faced a bitter experience in the past when it found a disappointing response from the global manufacturers in the international bidding process initiated for the procurement of insecticides for 2016-17,” Mr Ali said.

Keeping in view this situation, he said, the Punjab government was going to the relax some rules and regulations in order to attract the international firms.

Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2020