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Planning Commission to provide Rs 70 Billion for National COVID19 Programs
Islamabad, Pakistan – Declining daily cases of COVID19 is witnessing an agile Government response as the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission (DCPC) Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan chaired the third high level inter-provincial meeting at the Planning Commission, in less than two weeks on firming up a national plan for a more resilient and prepared Pakistan. In his opening remarks, DCPC informed that the funding will support the provinces for the four priority national initiatives namely the “National Health Upgradation Plan”, “Strengthening the Public Health Disease Surveillance and Response Systems”, “National Program for Water Sanitation and Hygiene” and “National Program for Creating Livelihoods” while targeting the marginalized populations who are more adversely affected by the epidemic. While emphasizing on urgency, he emphasized on the importance of credible network of labs, establishment of quarantine facilities and the ports of entry and having electronic medical record systems. He said that ‘we must realize that the storm is still hovering around” and there is a need to be vigilant of the ever-mutating nature of viral infections and be prepared before the next wave. He informed that the government has prioritized investment in critical care and infectious disease management at the Tehsil and District Head Quarter Hospitals, as “we know that we cannot go wrong with that.’
Member Social Sector Dr. Shabnum Sarfraz in her presentation said that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a deadly reminder of the gaps in healthcare systems’ capacity globally, underscoring the need for significant investment of resources to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure and build system resilience to weather public health shocks. Now 146 days into the pandemic, Pakistan is witnessing a decline in daily cases, along with decreasing positivity rates. She appreciated the exhaustive efforts of the provinces and said that while Pakistan has been spared from the disastrous morbidity burden and death toll related to COVID19, the likes of which have been seen in US, UK, Italy, Brazil and now India, we continue to teeter on the edge of disaster. She stressed that while there is an urgent need to strengthen the public health infrastructure for building our resilience for future, it is equally important for Pakistan to optimize the THQs and DHQs for critical care and infectious disease management.
A detailed presentation was made by the CEO IDAP, Mujahid Sherdil who shared details of completed and ongoing projects and also provided comprehensive information on establishing High Dependency Units (HDU) in the hospitals across Pakistan. The forum deliberated and developed consensus around the four priority national initiatives for which dedicated funds of Rs. 70 billion have been earmarked in PSDP 2020-21. Federal Secretary MoNHSRC Amer Ashraf Khawaja while appreciating the initiative informed that in his recent meeting with the provinces; the initiative was welcomed by all. He said that the funds will not only address the current situation but will also build the country’s resilience. He informed that the Cabinet has recently approved the NIH Act 2020 which would support the COVID19 response and preparedness interventions. Secretary Climate Change emphasized that WASH was indeed a critical domain with its vital contribution towards the promotive and preventive aspects of the continuum of care. She said that the provinces need to identify what priority investments do they need, and the Ministry of Climate Change will be happy to offer coordination. She suggested that the provinces may consider focusing on the densely populated areas for this intervention.
Secretary P&D Government of Punjab Imran Sikander Baloch appreciated the federal government’s support to the provinces. Chief Economist Naeem- uz-Zafar from Sindh P&D highlighted the efforts taken by their province in coordinating the COVID 19 response and said that upgradation of labs and hospitals is a provincial priority. Senior health official from KP said that the importance of the initiative cannot be understated, and that upgradation of health facilities is a priority for their province. Additional Chief Secretary Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan also attended the meeting and agreed with the overall approach and the identified priority areas. Secretary AJK welcomed the support offered to strengthen the hospital infrastructure and elaborated on the identified priorities for province.
Deputy Chairman Planning Commission said that the Government of Pakistan adopted a multi-pronged approach to ensure a swift response to the epidemic. Funds were repurposed promptly and made available to plan and respond to COVID-19, procure life-saving supplies and equipment that was vital to blunt the immediate impact. Socio-economic impact assessment supported by the UN partners was translated into COVID19 responsive annual plans. He said that the federal government through this allocation of Rs 70 Billion in its PSDP would like to work with the provinces for interventions targeted to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 and said that this would substantiate the provincial governments’ COVID 19 emergency response and preparedness plans. He said that the Government of Pakistan is cognizant of the urgent need to create livelihoods and is exploring small, local infrastructure projects that would generate local employment. He urged the provinces to define their roadmaps over the next two years.
Member Social Sector, Dr Shabnum Sarfraz elaborated on the details of the institutional arrangements being made by the Planning Commission to expedite the critical thinking and planning for the national priority initiatives. She urged the provincial governments to utilize their four months of experiences of combatting COVID19, measures that they have introduced, the challenges confronted for identifying key priority interventions to build national resilience towards similar epidemic in future.
The forum was attended by federal secretaries, chairman and senior officials from the planning and development boards of Punjab and Sindh, Additional Chief Secretaries of KP, Balochistan, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, Secretaries and senior representatives from the federal MoNHSRC and provincial health departments, Members and Chiefs at the Planning Commission.