ISLAMABAD   -   The officials from Health Ministry and NDMA were unable to apprise the Senate Committee on Planning when asked if Pakistan-made ventilators were tested on any patient in Pakistan.

Chaired by Senator Dr. Asad Ashraf, the Senate Standing Committee on Planning Development and Special Initiatives noted that there were thousands of ventilators in the warehouses but the country lacked trained staff to operate them. 

The committee was briefed in detail regarding COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan with complete details of allocated funds, equipment and its utilization.  The committee also deliberated over the RBOD II Project and the remaining scope of work. 

While briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan regarding allocated funds, equipment and its utilization, the committee was informed that the total quantum of committed donors financing for COVID 19 pandemic was 483.96 million dollar against the total requirement of 595 million dollar indicated in Pakistan preparedness Response Plan (PPRP).  

Donor funding consisting of loans, grants and in-kind support that included PPEs, Lab consumables, establishment of provincial and district diseases surveillance response units across the country was provided as well.   

Endeavours to fight against COVID 19 pandemic were provided by the Asian Development Bank in the form of a concessional loan facility amounting 200 million dollar. The assistance came in the backdrop of the request of Government of Pakistan to boost its response mechanism.  The soft loan for social protection for the poor and vulnerable has been extended under the emergency assistance for fighting against COVID-19 pandemic. This loan was distributed under the Ehsas Emergency Cash Programme.  

Member Operations NDMA, the lead focal agency for COVID-19 response, informed the committee that allocation of Rs25.3 billion were provided to the Agency. Out of the total allocation expenditures of Rs13.496 billion had been incurred so far.  The ADB has provided Rs8 billion which had already been spent. Beside ADB, other donor organization was IHITC.  China had also provided a donation of 4 million dollar. With the Chinese help a hospital was established at Chak Shehzad, Islamabad.

Member Operations NDMA informed the committee that 1919 ventilators had been provided to the hospitals while 2675 ventilators were in the warehouses.

Senator Geeyan Chand asked that what you were going to do with the ventilators lying in the warehouses? They would be provided to the hospitals at district and tehsil level, said the NDMA official.

Senator Rukhsana Zuberi said that one ventilator was purchased at $210000. Have you done something for manufacturing ventilators locally? 

Official of the NDMA said that initially N95 masks were purchased at Rs950 per mask but now it is being purchased at Rs220. Similarly earlier no one was ready to supply normal mask at Rs30 but in July we purchased mask at Rs12, he added.

Chairman of the Committee said have you tested the Pakistan-made ventilator on any patient? There was no answer either with the health ministry or NDMA.  

Major supplies distributed nationwide included face masks, N-95 Type Masks, Protective Suits, Goggles, Face Shields, Latex/Nitrile/ Surgical Gloves, Ventilators, Portable X-Ray Machines, Portable X-Ray machines, PCR Lab machines, etc.  

The committee was informed that the basic challenges faced by the agency included lack of domestic manufacturing capacity, demand and supply gap, hoarding of essential supplies and movement of goods and services hampered due to lockdown.  Senator Engr. Rukhsana Zuberi enquired the level of preparedness of the agency and stressed the need to ramp it up to deal with any contingency in the future. Chairman Committee, Senator Dr. Asad Ashraf asserted that rapid response was imperative to saving lives. It was also asserted that hands-on training of staff serving ICUs was essential, especially of those who deal with ventilators and respirators.   

Discussing the RBOD II Project, the committee was informed that the project began in 2001 and since then had been in the lurch. Senator Gian Chand said that in the previous meetings it was discussed that the project would be handled by the Frontier Works Organization. He said that later it was revealed that certain technical issues were causing delay.  Frequent change of project directors was another major issue that stalled the project. The Committee was apprised that a third party audit was being conducted to ascertain the cause of delay. Senator Engr. Rukhsana Zuberi stressed the need to involve the Pakistan Engineering Council (PEC). She said a system must be put in place to allow project directors to evaluate and monitor projects on a regular basis. The committee decided that PEC must be engaged along with other stakeholders to assess the status of the project in detail and report back to the committee on the issues and solutions to expedite the work towards completion.