The federal government will provide Rs. 70 billion for combating COVID-19 during the current fiscal year 2020-21.
The Deputy Chairman Planning Commission (DCPC) Muhammad Jahanzeb Khan chaired the third high-level inter-provincial meeting at the Planning Commission for firming up a national plan for a more resilient and prepared Pakistan against COVID-19.
In his opening remarks, DCPC said that the funding will support provinces in 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” targeting the marginalized population that is more adversely affected by the pandemic.
He emphasized the importance of a credible network of labs, the establishment of quarantine facilities, ports of entry, and having electronic medical record systems. He said “we must realize that the storm hasn’t passed” and there is a need to be vigilant of the ever-mutating nature of viral infections and be prepared for the next wave.
The government has prioritized investment in critical care and infectious disease management at the Tehsil and District Headquarter Hospitals.
Member Social Sector Dr. Shabnum Sarfraz 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 to strengthen the healthcare infrastructure and build resilience to deal with public health shocks.
Now, 146 days into the pandemic, Pakistan is witnessing a decline in daily cases, along with decreasing positive rates. She appreciated the exhaustive efforts of the provinces and said that while Pakistan has been spared from the disastrous burden and death toll related, the likes of which have been seen in the 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 the 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 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 Ministry of Health Amer Ashraf Khawaja commented 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. The cabinet has recently approved the NIH Act 2020 which would support the COVID-19 response and preparedness.
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 priority investments, the Ministry of Climate Change will be happy to help. 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 up-gradation of labs and hospitals is a provincial priority. Senior health officials from KP said that the importance of the initiative cannot be understated and that up-gradation of health facilities is a priority for their province.
Deputy Chairman Planning Commission said that the Government of Pakistan adopted a multi-pronged approach to ensure a swift response to the pandemic. 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 COVID-19 responsive annual plans.
He said that the federal government will like to work with the provinces for interventions targeted to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 and said that this will 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 will generate local employment and 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.
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 ministry of health and provincial health departments, Members and Chiefs at the Planning Commission.