ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) on Thursday laid the foundation stone for the new Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) building.

Successive health ministers promised to construct the building for more than five years, but were not even able to lay its foundation stone.

Once the multi-storey purpose-built office is complete, Drap also plans to introduce an automated system that could reduce drug pricing issues such as unapproved price increases caused by the current manual system.

The authority would also save more than Rs5 million a month, which it currently spends on renting a building in G-9.

“The new six or seven-storey building will be constructed on a 20-kanal plot allocated at the National Institute of Health (NIH). The cut-off date for the completion of the product is June 2021, so we have called a meeting on Friday to finalise the project and its cost,” Drap CEO Dr Asim Rauf told Dawn.

A purpose-built multi-storey office on the premises of the NIH will be completed by June 2021

After the 18th Amendment was passed, health was devolved to the provinces and the Drug Registration Board made defunct. The board was then re-established as Drap, under the 2012 Drap Act.

Since then the authority has operated in various offices, some in the ‘C’ Block of the Pak Secretariat – where Drap was under pressure to vacate its offices because only ministries are allowed to operate there – as well as a rented building in Blue Area.

A Drap official said that it was decided in 2013 that a building should be rented so all the authority’s offices could be moved to one location. A 30,000 square feet building in G-9 was therefore rented for Rs4.6m, which was followed by criticism that the rent for the building was too high.

In response, then NHS minister Saira Afzal Tarar announced in July 2014 a process to acquire 20 kanals of land for a Drap building which the authority would move into within two years.

“The foundation stone could not even be laid in her tenure,” the official said, adding: “During the PTI government, former NHS minister Aamir Mehmood Kiani also announced that the building was would constructed soon but there was no further development. When Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza was informed of the issue, he assured that possession of the land would be taken and on Thursday the foundation stone was laid as well.”

Dr Rauf said it has been decided that the building would be constructed with international protocol.

“An automated system will be introduced due to which only authorised people will be able to enter and visit the building. There will be a record-keeping mechanism. One of the floors will be allocated for the Pakistan Pharmacy Council, as pharmacists have a direct relationship with Drap,” he said.

He added that they are currently paying more than Rs5m a month to rent their present office, which is not purpose built.

“Moreover, we do not have access control in the current building, and it has become difficult to apply permanent logistics,” he said.

Drap has also decided to buy 85 computers to introduce a paperless environment in the future, he added.

According to an official statement, Dr Mirza laid the foundation stone of the new Drap building on Thursday on the premises of the NIH where land has been allotted for the new building.

Dr Mirza said the building will be completed in June 2021, and is part of an initiative to revamp the authority and run it according to international best practices. He said the entire system of the authority was being computerised so that the utmost transparency is ensured.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020