Put idle capacity in countries like Pakistan to work making vaccines — WTO head

A medical attendant prepares to innoculate a senior citizen with a Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus, at a vaccination centre in Islamabad on March 30, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 06 May 2021

Put idle capacity in countries like Pakistan to work making vaccines — WTO head

  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urges governments to use production capacity in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Indonesia and Senegal 
  • Production needed to rise from 5 billion doses produced today to the 10.8 billion being forecast for this year to 15 billion

GENEVA: The world cannot act soon enough to put idle manufacturing capacity to work making COVID-19 vaccines to help redress a massive imbalance in global supply, the head of the World Trade Organization said on Wednesday.
WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments was “both the moral and economic issue of our time”. The World Health Organization said in April that of 700 million vaccines globally administered, only 0.2 percent had been in low-income countries.
Okonjo-Iweala told a meeting of the 164-member WTO that those who had ordered more vaccines than they needed must share with others. Members should also address export restrictions and bureaucracy disrupting vital medical supply chains.
She urged governments to work with manufacturers to use production capacity available in countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Senegal that could be turned around in a matter of months.
Production needed to rise from the 5 billion doses produced today to the 10.8 billion being forecast for this year to 15 billion, in particular if booster doses would be needed.
The debate on vaccine inequity at the WTO has centered a proposal by India and South Africa to waive intellectual property rights, at least for the duration of the pandemic.
Ten meetings of WTO members have failed to achieve a breakthrough and Wednesday’s online gathering was no different as 42 countries gave their views. However, members also heard that India and South Africa intend to refine their proposal before another discussion later in May.
Okonjo-Iweala said she was happy to hear of the revised text.
“I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward,” she said, referring to a balance between developing country demands while protecting research and innovation.


Pakistani cleric charged with sexual abuse at religious school

Updated 17 June 2021

Pakistani cleric charged with sexual abuse at religious school

  • The 60-something cleric has been expelled from his position at the seminary and stripped off his title of 'mufti'
  • Police could not locate the cleric when they visited the religious school after the student filed the sexual abuse complaint

LAHORE: A Muslim cleric who has led anti-blasphemy rallies in Pakistan has been charged with sexually abusing a student at a religious school, police said on Thursday.
Police said charges were filed against Aziz-ur-Rehman after cellphone videos purporting to show the cleric forcing himself on the student went viral on social media.
The case has caused a stir in Pakistan, a mainly Muslim country, and outrage on social media, with many calling for a strict punishment for the cleric.
Rehman denied the accusation of sexual abuse in a video statement issued on social media, saying that he was drugged before the filming of the alleged abuse. He said this was part of a plot to throw him out of the seminary, the Jamia Manzoor-ul-Islamia.
Rehman, who is in his 60s and is a member of a prominent religious political party, has worked as a custodian of the seminary for several years.
The seminary said the cleric has been expelled from his position, and Wafaq-ul-Madaris, the body that oversees the religious schools system, said it has stripped him off his title, mufti, which means a religious scholar.
A police spokesperson said police could not locate the cleric when they visited the seminary after the student filed the sexual abuse complaint.
The student, who police said appeared to be in his early 20s, said in his complaint that he has given several video and audio recordings to help police investigate, adding he had gone into hiding because he had received death threats.
The police said the student had told them that the cleric had been abusing him for several years. He said he started filming the abuse after he got sick of it and sent the video clips of the abuse to the head of the Wafaq-ul-Madaris.
It was not clear how the video clips began circulating on social media.
Rehman has often been seen in photos and videos of anti-blasphemy rallies held in recent months to denounce publication of cartoons in France depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Over 2.2 million children attend religious seminaries in Pakistan. Sexual abuse cases are often hushed up, although some parents have recently been coming forward to file complaints.
A nongovernment organization called Sahil that works to stop child abuse reported 2,960 cases of child sex abuse in 2020 throughout the country, not just in seminaries.


In Pakistan’s largest city, immunization centers turn away citizens as vaccine stocks finish

Updated 17 June 2021

In Pakistan’s largest city, immunization centers turn away citizens as vaccine stocks finish

  • Medical professionals criticize the government for setting up inoculation facilities without paying much attention to procurement and storage of vaccines
  • Pakistan’s southern Sindh province says it is only left with 376,231 doses of different COVID-19 shots

KARACHI: Authorities in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi have decided to provisionally shut down some immunization centers due to a shortage of coronavirus vaccines, provincial health officials confirmed while talking to Arab News on Thursday.
According to the official statistics, the country’s southern Sindh province is only left with 376,231 doses of various types of COVID-19 vaccines.
This is despite the fact that Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah inaugurated the province’s biggest vaccination facility at the Expo Center in Karachi last month to administer 20,000 more coronavirus shots on a daily basis.
“While we increased our capacity to inoculate more people by establishing such facilities, we could not ensure smooth supply of vaccines that could have helped us endure the pace of our immunization drive which will now be negatively impacted,” Dr. Qaiser Sajjad, general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association, told Arab News.
He maintained that doctors were previously trying to persuade people to get themselves vaccinated, adding that many medical facilities in the country were now turning them back.
Sajjad maintained it was not just small immunization facilities that were finding it difficult to serve the public but also places like the Expo Center.
Dr. Anila Qureshi, a health official in Karachi’s district east who was suspended earlier this year for vaccinating the family of a former governor before their rightful turn, negated any vaccine shortage at the mega facility.
“Do you need to get vaccinated,” she asked. “We have COVID-19 shots.”
However, Dr. Sajjad insisted many citizens who recently visited the Expo Center had returned unvaccinated.
Mehar Khursheed, a Sindh health department spokesperson, admitted there was a vaccine shortage since the province was not getting sufficient doses from the federal government.
She shared official figures related to the number of remaining COVID-19 shots with Arab News, showing that Sindh was only left with 376,231 doses of Sinopharm (168,330), CanSino (37,768), SinoVac (91,816), AstraZeneca (62,487) and PakVac (15,830).
The province has so far administered 2,755,767 jabs, though 1,954,956 of them are first doses.
According to reports in the local media, authorities in Karachi have temporarily suspended vaccination centers at Korangi and Malir districts to ensure the availability of COVID-19 vaccines at the Expo Center.
Speaking to the media in Islamabad on Wednesday, Dr. Faisal Sultan, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on public health, said the vaccine shortage would be over by the end of the month since the government was doing the necessary procurement.
“People who are due to get their second shot should not be worried,” he continued. “The second dose can also be administered after a delay of about a week or so.”


UAE invites Pakistani entrepreneurs to explore market opportunities, promises full cooperation

Updated 17 June 2021

UAE invites Pakistani entrepreneurs to explore market opportunities, promises full cooperation

  • The UAE state minister for foreign trade describes Pakistan as one of his country’s top 25 strategic global trade partners
  • The two countries aspire to double the quantum of bilateral trade during the next five years

ISLAMABAD: The United Arab Emirates is ready to extend full cooperation to Pakistan’s business community and assist its members to explore market opportunities in the Gulf country, a top UAE official was quoted by the Associated Press of Pakistan on Thursday.
The Pakistan Business Council held a trade session in Dubai earlier this week, inviting several high-profile dignitaries including the UAE state minister for foreign trade, Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi.
“For us, Pakistan is among the top 25 important strategic global trade partners,” he said.
The minister acknowledged the strong bilateral relations between the two countries while pointing out that they were grounded in a long history and significant level of mutual trust.
He maintained that trade between the two countries had witnessed a significant increased over a period of time.
“The UAE recently announced the 100 percent foreign ownership law, which has spurred economic activity and been hailed by the business community around the world,” Al Zeyoudi told the participants of the gathering.
He continued that Pakistan was his country’s second biggest partner in terms of imports, adding that the two sides also had significant investments in various sectors including real estate.
Pakistani envoy to the UAE Afzaal Mahmood also noted that his country’s entrepreneurs could benefit from the diverse market in the Arab state.
He pointed out that the two economies “complemented each other” while arguing in favor of exploring “value-added advantages in the interest of both sides.”
The event concluded with a resolution that the two countries should do their best to double their trade volume in the next five years.
The APP reported that the quantum of trade between Pakistan and the UAE stood at $8.19 billion in 2019.


Supply chain constraints lead to closure of COVID-19 vaccine centers across Pakistan

Updated 17 June 2021

Supply chain constraints lead to closure of COVID-19 vaccine centers across Pakistan

  • Officials of Sindh administration say they were forced to temporarily shut down 40 percent of the inoculation facilities due to shortage of vaccines
  • The Punjab government declines to acknowledge lack of coronavirus shots, though many people say they were turned away from vaccination centers

ISLAMABAD: Hundreds of COVID-19 vaccination centers in different parts of Pakistan have discontinued their services due to supply chain obstacles, admitted officials involved in the country’s immunization drive on Thursday, as the government said it would provide additional supplies to all provinces by Sunday to resolve the issue.
The vaccine shortage has particularly hit the Sindh province where the authorities have shut down at least 40 percent of the inoculation centers. People in Punjab have also complained about the unavailability of vaccines in cities like Lahore, Chakwal, Jhelum and Rawalpindi along with several rural areas of the province.
“We are facing vaccine supply issues from the federal government and that is why we have temporarily shut down about 40 percent of vaccination centers,” Mehar Khursheed, a Sindh health department spokesperson, told Arab News.
She said the federal government had promised to ensure smooth supply of vaccines by June 20 (Sunday), adding that all vaccination centers would become operational again after the province replenished its stocks.
“We are short of all four vaccines: SinoPharm, CanSino, SinoVac and AstraZeneca,” Khursheed added. “Hopefully, we’ll get their fresh stocks by Sunday.”
Pakistan has received 14.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines since it kicked off its immunization campaign in February and plans to procure and receive over 90 million more jabs to inoculate much of its adult population during the second half of this year, according to the health ministry.
The country’s federal government is responsible to ensure smooth COVID-19 vaccine supply to provinces in keeping with their population density. The federal government has also allocated $1.1 billion in its newly announced budget to procure coronavirus shots from the international market.
Besides the country’s southern Sindh province, Punjab is also facing vaccine shortages in numerous districts where people have been turned away from various vaccination facilities.
“We are told to come after two to three days to get the shots,” 46-year-old Muhammad Afzal, who recently visited the District Headquarters Hospital in Chakwal for inoculation, told Arab News.
“Doctors on duty told us they would get these vaccines from Punjab government in the next couple of days and then resume the immunization process,” he said.
However, the Punjab government plainly rejected any vaccine shortage despite reports of such incidents emerging from different parts of the province.
“There is not any shortage of vaccine in Punjab,” Hammad Raza Bukhari, a spokesperson for the province’s health department, told Arab News.
Dr. Faisal Sultan, who advises Prime Minister Imran Khan on public health, and Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, a top official at the ministry of national health services, did not respond to Arab News queries despite repeated phone calls and text messages.
Sultan described the COVID-19 vaccine shortage at some vaccination centers as a “temporary” issue on Wednesday, hoping that the situation would improve after June 20.
“There are more than 2,000 vaccination centers in the country and the number of visitors varies,” he maintained. “So, there may be a shortage of vaccines at some centers.”
Sultan also added that over two million vaccine doses were currently available in the country.
“So, this [vaccine supply] process will continue, and it will improve after June as we get more vaccines,” he said.


Turkey begins construction of fourth warship for Pakistan Navy at Karachi shipyard 

Updated 17 June 2021

Turkey begins construction of fourth warship for Pakistan Navy at Karachi shipyard 

  • Contract for four MILGEM class corvettes was signed with Turkey in 2018
  • Induction of ships will significantly enhance maritime defense, deterrence capability, Pakistan Navy says 

ISLAMABAD: Turkey this week began construction of a Turkey-made small warship called the corvette in the southern port city of Karachi to be supplied to the Pakistan Navy.
On May 10, 2017, Turkey and Pakistan signed a memorandum of understanding for the sale of four Turkish made corvette warships and 52 Pakistan-made training planes for Ankara’s armed forces. Ankara described it as Turkey’s biggest single military export deal and “a very important day” for the defense industry.
Under the deal, the Karachi Shipyard (KS&EW) would buy four corvettes made under Turkey’s MILGEM warship program, aimed at designing and building locally a fleet of multipurpose corvettes and frigates that will replace older ships.
“Pakistan Navy has concluded a contract with M/s ASFAT for construction of 04 x corvettes out of which two are being constructed at Istanbul Naval Shipyard whereas the remaining two at Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works,” Pakistan Navy said in a statement on June 15.

Officials from the Pakistan and Turkish navy sign a memorandum of understanding for the sale of four Turkish-made corvette warships and 52 Pakistan-made training planes in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

The contract for four MILGEM class corvettes for the Pakistan Navy with transfer of technology was signed with ASFAT Inc, a Turkish state owned defense contractor in 2018.
“These corvettes will be fitted with state-of-art Surface, Sub-Surface and Anti-Air Weapons & Sensors, integrated through an advanced Network Centric Combat Management System,” the navy statement said. “It is a historic occasion as Ministry of Defense Production, Pakistan Navy, Karachi Shipyard and M/s ASFAT of Turkey have joined hands for construction of this Corvette.”

Pakistan's Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Muhammad Amjad Khan Niazi (first from left), observes the making of the Turkey-made small warship under the MILGEM program at the Karachi port in Pakistan, on June 15, 2021. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

Pakistan Navy said the induction of the corvettes would significantly enhance the force’s maritime defense and deterrence capabilities: “These corvettes will become a core element of PN’s kinetic response to traditional and non-traditional challenges and to maintain balance of power in the Indian Ocean Region.”