ISLAMABAD-Pakistan is largely dependent on India for import of anti-rabies and anti-snake venom vaccines as National Institute of Health lacks the capacity of manufacturing the vaccines as per demand in the country, The Nation learnt on Wednesday.

Documents available with The Nation stated that in last 16 months, above Rs2.56 billion worth of anti-rabies and anti-snake venom vaccines were imported from India.

Earlier, Senator Rehman Malik had raised questions in the Senate regarding quantity and value of medicines being imported from India and capacity of government departments regarding manufacturing anti-rabies and anti-snake venom vaccines.

Responding to the queries of the Senator, Ministry of National Health Services submitted reply in the Senate Standing Committee on NHS that both anti-dog and anti-snake venom serum were manufactured in Pakistan by the NIH, while a private company manufactured anti-snake venom serum locally.

It also said that, however, the capacity of both manufacturers was not enough to fulfill the demand of the country; therefore, the said vaccines are also imported by the duly-approved registration holders of these biological products to avoid the shortage in larger public interest.

Documents said that import of Rs2561.27 million was done in last 16 months from India.

Documents also revealed that there was a gap in demand and supply of vaccines in different regions of the country.

In Azad Jammu and Kashmir, demand in vials is 775 while 665 vials are provided; in Balochistan, demand is 860 vials while 850 vials are being provided; in Islamabad, demand is 1393 vials and supply is 1393; in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, demand is 9179 and supply is 4339; in Punjab, demand is 188757 vials and supply is 87304; Sindh government’s demand is 3761 vials and supply is 2958 and Pak Army’s demand is 12599 vials while supply is 8796 vials.

Discussing the import of medicines and vaccines from India in Senate Standing Committee on NHS, Senator Malik was of the view that in order to curb shortage of snake venom serum and rabies vaccines, it must be made mandatory for local manufacturers to produce these vaccines in addition to profit-making medical products. He said that it was a pity that medicines were being imported from India and China, when Pakistan was self-sufficient in medical raw material and that vaccines manufactured here will be much more affordable.

While taking up the matter of increasing vaccine production at NIH, the committee was informed that a proposal to expand the vaccines centre at NIH was underway and that the Institute was currently producing 25,000 vials of snake venom serum and 100,000 vials of rabies vaccines which once expanded will increase to 100,000 and 700,000, respectively.

The committee took strict notice of lack of vaccines in provinces, especially Sindh and Balochistan. The Committee was informed that delay in payment from provinces led to shortage.

Chairman Committee, Senator Mian Ateeq Shaikh directed the NIH to submit SOPs for production and supply of vaccines to the Committee.

He also said that the Act must be reviewed and that rules must be mended so that federal and provincial health institutes might benefit from the same.