ISLAMABAD   -  World Health Organisation (WHO) Country head in Pakistan Dr Palitha Gunarathna Mahipala said Pakistan would get around 20 million doses of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine to cover its 20 percent of the population from the virus expectedly at the end of 2021.

In an interview with The Nation, he said that WHO and The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) have established a platform COVAX for the facility of availability of vaccine and Pakistan being its member has put up its comprehensive proposal to get a vaccine.

He said that expectedly the COVID-19 vaccine would be available at the end of 2021 and Pakistan would get 20 million doses to cover 20 percent of its population initially.

Talking about the second wave of COVID-19 in Pakistan, Dr Palitha Mahipala said that it could be prevented by following the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) including observing social distancing and wearing face masks.

Dr Palitha Mahipala said that the educational institutions were also open, but the second wave could be prevented if the focus was set on observing SOPs. “However, if people took it complacently then the situation could be awkward,” he said.

He said that response of the Pakistan government to COVID-19 was outstanding and the coordinated efforts of the government supported by different ministries, agencies, partners including WHO resulted positively.

The WHO Country head said that Pakistan was one of the countries which launched the National Action Plan (NAP) to respond to COVID-19 and its plan of procurement (Pakistan Procurement Response Plan – PPRP) was appreciated globally.

“The NAP was commended on global platforms meetings attended by Director General (DG) WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom, World Bank and Asian Bank on its outstanding response to COVID-19,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said that recently WHO identified seven countries with their appreciable response against COVID-19 and Pakistan was one of them and other countries could learn from it.

“There are scientific differences on which I would say Pakistan’s response to COVID-19 is good,” said Dr Palitha Mahipala.

Refraining himself from comparing Pakistan with any specific country, WHO country head said that Pakistan cases could be compared regionally and globally.

He said a coordinated effort was done by National Command and Operations Centre (NCOC) in collaboration with provinces in collecting epidemiological and scientific data, while monitoring of implementation on Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) was also done.

Dr Palitha Mahipala said that 60 percent implementation on wearing masks and and 73 percent of hand-washing was observed while social distancing was also implemented.

He further said that the Pakistan’s strategy on isolation, quarantining and case management was remarkable as 20000 beds were isolated for the COVID-19 patients in initial response.

“ICUs, ventilators were identified initially, protective equipments were given, provinces and other bodies were brought on the single platform of NCOC,” he said.

He said that the science-driven response and development of testing facilities was also an important factor behind the remarkable response of Pakistan to COVID-19.

He said that initially Pakistan had one testing lab at National Institute of Health (NIH) where WHO collaborated with it and in a few weeks the strength went in testing thousands of people daily.

Dr Palitha Mahipala said that now Pakistan had the capacity of conducting 50000 to 60000 tests daily and had established 102 labs across the country, while ICUs had the better capacity and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) was also available.

He said, “It’s quite a good response as Pakistan has reached from no testing capacity to thousands with 102 labs with 24 PCR machines provided by WHO. Leadership was shown from provincial to top level.”