Vested interests termed hurdle in vaccines local production in Pakistan

Published July 30, 2021
Dr Javed Akram said vaccines are manufactured in biotechnology plants and unfortunately Pakistan does not have a single such facility. — Reuters/File
Dr Javed Akram said vaccines are manufactured in biotechnology plants and unfortunately Pakistan does not have a single such facility. — Reuters/File

ISLAMABAD: While highest number of coronavirus cases was reported in a single day on Thursday since April 30, member of the Scientific Task Force on Covid-19 Dr Javed Akram said that vested interests were the major hurdle in production of vaccines and medicines in Pakistan.

“Unfortunately, a majority of medicines are manufactured abroad and after importing them in drums or in a large quantity, they are packed in small bottles and ‘made in Pakistan’ is printed on them. The only solution is to manufacture medicines in the country and same is the case with the Covid-19 vaccine,” Dr Akram said while speaking to media persons at an international conference organised by the Pakistan Society of Internal Medicines (PSIM) in Islamabad.

He said vaccines are manufactured in biotechnology plants and unfortunately Pakistan does not have a single such facility, while China and India respectively have 3,300 and 350 biotechnology plants.

“When Fawad Chaudhry was Minister of Science and Technology, I invited 34 companies and urged them to make a consortium for establishing a biotechnology plant and told them that their investment will be recovered within three years. But the companies asked who will deal with the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan, drug inspectors and other government departments. So I contacted Fawad Chaudhry and discussed the idea with him,” he said.

76 deaths, 4,497 Covid cases reported

“Fawad Chaudhry agreed with my proposal and called me for a meeting. During the meeting, the minister suggested that the plant should be established in Jhelum. The same day it was decided to establish a committee to look into it, but till date not a single meeting of the committee has been called. Fawad Chaudhry’s portfolio was also changed,” he said.

Dr Akram, who is vice chancellor of University of Health Sciences, said that it was not the first such attempt which failed. “Five years ago, when I was VC of another university I decided to start manufacturing injectable medicines for patients suffering from hepatitis. Imported injection was being sold for Rs11,000 but we prepared the same for Rs300 and also got it tested by labs of the European Union and United States Centre for Disease Control. However, a case was lodged against us and five persons, including me, were arrested for failing to hold clinical trial. Later, I contacted students of another university and conducted a clinical trial and submitted a dossier to Drap but I could not get any response for three years as injections worth of Rs48 billion were being imported every year; finally when oral medicine was launched in different countries Drap said that I should be awarded for the research,” Dr Akram said.

He said the PSIM has decided to start providing free of cost treatment in Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Hyderabad.

“We call it a payback time for the doctors and they have pledged to give 20pc of their time. The Lahore centre will start functioning from August 14,” he said.

While commenting on the recent controversy in which executive director of the National Institute of Health Maj Gen Aamer Ikram, during an event in Karachi, said that Pakistan had earned millions of US dollars during clinical trial of Covid-19 vaccine, Dr Akram said that unnecessary criticism was hurled over the statement.

“India has been earning $3bn every year through research and we are getting nothing. We need to understand that reliable and tested medicines should be given to the people and research plays a very important role in it. Research and development go together and the countries get financial gains from it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) reported 76 deaths and 4,497 cases of Covid-19 for a single day on Thursday. It was the highest number of cases since April 30.

Addressing a press conference, federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar said that recent surge in Covid-19 cases was observed because people started thinking that the virus had been eradicated and they stopped following SOPs.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan was also present on the occasion.

Dr Sultan said that 70pc population would be vaccinated by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday officially handed over 3m doses of Moderna vaccine to Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2021

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