Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

Workers off load boxes of COVID-19 vaccine from Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) aircraft in Islamabad, Pakistan, on May 9, 2021. (Photo courtesy: PIA/File)
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Updated 06 September 2021

Pakistani pharmaceutical firms stop importing COVID-19 vaccines, say no longer ‘viable’ business

  • Local production of vaccines and government speeding up its procurement process diminished need for private imports
  • Vaccines privately imported by AGP and AJM Pharma were used at public and private medical facilities earlier this year

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani private pharmaceutical firms have halted efforts to import coronavirus vaccines for commercial use, officials at two major companies said on Monday, as the government has started locally producing jabs and expedited its vaccine procurement drive.
The government allowed private sector firms to import vaccines in December 2020, opening the possibility that people who could afford it would be able to buy the vaccine before a government rollout, which officially begin in February, prioritizing the elderly and health care workers.
After getting government permission, two privately owned pharmaceutical companies in Pakistan, AGP and AJM Pharma, had imported 50,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and 10,000 of the single-dose Chinese Convidecia vaccine, respectively. All jabs were used at private hospitals and other medical facilities in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. 
“We are not bringing any new vaccine shipment as this is no longer viable for business,” Umair Mukhtar, the communications head at AGP Pharma, told Arab News. 
He said the scope for privately procured vaccines was limited after a massive rollout by the government and the rapid lowering of the age limit for vaccine eligibility.
“After the use of our first batch, we tried to book more vaccines, but it couldn’t materialize due to some supply issues,” Mukhtar said. 
AGP Pharma had sold the vaccine to private hospitals that administered two doses per individual for over Rs12,000. 
Amitab Suresh, an official at AJM Pharma, said the company sold its initial shipment to the government to use at public hospitals: “Later, the government started producing it locally. Therefore, we aren’t importing the vaccine anymore.” 
The commercial use of vaccines triggered a debate about social divide and privilege in the country while public health experts warned that allowing the commercial sale of vaccines would open the door to fraud and fake jabs.
The government later picked up its procurement of vaccines from multiple sources, including purchases from Chinese companies like SinoVac, SinoPharm and CanSino Bio. It has also received millions of doses through COVAX – a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, especially for developing countries like Pakistan. 
More than 61.8 million people, out of Pakistan’s 125.85 million eligible population aged above 18, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since February, according to official figures. On Monday, fully vaccinated people constituted around 16 percent of the target population. 
All provinces across the country have ramped up efforts to boost their daily vaccination rate by launching door-to-door campaigns and restricting unvaccinated people from using public transport, buying fuel at petrol stations and availing other essential services. 


Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

Updated 7 sec ago

Pakistan confirms jail term for alleged mastermind of 2008 Mumbai attacks

  • Sajid Mir is one of the FBI’s most-wanted terrorists in connection to a series of deadly attacks in Mumbai in 2008
  • His sentencing is seen Pakistan in relation to the government’s efforts to get out of FATF grey list

KARACHI: Pakistani authorities confirmed on Saturday that the alleged mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attacks was in their custody and has been sentenced to 15 years in jail on charges of terrorism financing.

Sajid Mir has been on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty on his head, and has been sought by the US and India for over a decade in connection to a series of attacks in Mumbai in late November 2008, where militants killed more than 170 people, including six American nationals.

Mir is believed to be a leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group accused of carrying out the attacks. According to the FBI most-wanted list, he allegedly served as the “chief planner of the attacks, directing preparations and reconnaissance, and was one of the Pakistan-based controllers during the attacks.”

He was sentenced by a court in Lahore earlier this month to 15 and a half years in prison and is serving his sentence at the Kot Lakhpat jail.

“The sentencing in a TF (terrorism financing) case is confirmed,” Asim Iftikhar Ahmad, spokesperson of the Pakistani foreign office, told Arab News.

An undated file photo of Sajid Mir. (Photo courtesy: Dawn.com)

Mir was indicted in the US by court in Illinois in April 2011 and his arrest warrant was issued the same month. The American court charged him with “conspiracy to injure property of foreign government; providing material support to terrorists; killing a citizen outside of the U.S. and aiding and abetting; and bombing of places of public use.”

His sentencing is seen Pakistan in relation to the government’s efforts to get out of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list.

In June 2018 the global watchdog downgraded Pakistan to its increased monitoring list, for lacking measures to curb money-laundering and terrorism financing.
During its plenary meeting last week, FATF kept Pakistan on its grey list but said an onsite inspection — expected in October — could verify the country’s progress in fulfilling the watchdog’s action plan and lead to the removal of the designation.

“This issue rather became a major sticking point in FATF’s assessment of Pakistan’s progress on the action plan late last year. This was where things finally started moving in Mir’s case,” Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily, reported on Saturday.

“His conviction and sentencing were, therefore, major achievements that Pakistani officials showcased in their progress report given to FATF on its action plan during the latest plenary.”

Being on the FATF’s grey list severely restricts a country’s international borrowing capabilities. Exiting it is likely to increase foreign inflows, specifically direct investment, into Pakistan, which desperately needs funds amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.


Officers from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar graduate from Pakistan Naval Academy

Updated 25 June 2022

Officers from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar graduate from Pakistan Naval Academy

  • Since its establishment in 1947, Pakistan Naval Academy has trained 2,000 officers from friendly countries, including many from the Middle East
  • Among four graduates who received distinction from Pakistani PM was one officer from Bahrain

ISLAMABAD: Nineteen cadets from Bahrain, Palestine and Qatar were among the midshipmen who completed the Pakistan Naval Academy’s 117th course on Saturday, the Pakistan Navy said, as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif presented awards to the best graduates.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, (center front), with midshipmen who completed the Pakistan Naval Academy’s 117th course in Karachi on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

The Pakistan Naval Academy, located in Manora Island, Sindh province, provides initial training to officers of the Pakistan Navy and since its establishment in 1947 has also trained some 2,000 officers from friendly countries, including many from the Middle East. 

“The commissioning contingent comprised of 23 Midshipmen including 4 from Pakistan, 14 from Bahrain Defence Forces, 3 from State of Palestine, 2 from Qatar along with 19 officers from SSC (Short Service Commission) Course,” the Navy said in a statement.

“While addressing at the ceremony, Prime Minister congratulated the commissioning term for successful completion of training and highlighted the modern warfare dynamics, while underlining challenges of responsibility for newly commissioned officers.”

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif awarding Academy Dirk to the best midshipman during the 117th midshipman and 25th SSC commissioning parade at Pakistan Naval Academy Manora in Karachi on June 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy: Pakistan Navy)

The ceremony was attended by senior civil and military officials, as well as the cadets’ parents.

Among the four graduates who received distinction from the prime minister was one officer from Bahrain.

“The prestigious Quaid-i-Azam Gold Medal was awarded to Lt Syed Irtaza Haider Naqvi for his Overall Best Performance. Midshipman Adnan M Ebrahim Jasim Bader (Bahrain) clinched the Academy's Dirk,” the Navy said.

“Officer Cadet Naufil Malik was awarded Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gold Medal, while Commandant Gold Medal was awarded to Officer Cadet Sumayya Sajjad from Short Service Commission Course. The Proficiency Banner was awarded to Quarter Deck Squadron.”


Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan plane carrying aid joins Afghan quake relief effort

  • Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan
  • UN representative says among the 1,150 dead from Wednesday’s magnitude-6 quake are 121 children

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani military cargo plane carrying relief goods for Afghanistan’s earthquake-affected people landed at the Khost airport Saturday, officials said, as tents, food and medical supplies rolled into the mountainous region. 

Thousands were left homeless or injured by this week’s powerful earthquake in eastern Afghanistan, which state media said killed 1,150 people. An aftershock Friday took five more lives. 

Among the dead from Wednesday’s magnitude 6 quake are 121 children and that figure is expected to climb, said the U.N. children's agency representative in Afghanistan. He said close to 70 children were injured. 

Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador in the Afghan capital of Kabul, said relief goods dispatched by Pakistan on Saturday were handed over to Taliban officials. 

Earlier, Pakistan’s government and a Pakistani charity had sent 13 trucks carrying food, tents, life-saving medicines and other essential items to Afghanistan. 

A 19-member team from the neighboring country comprised of physicians and paramedics has been helping Afghanistan’s Taliban-run government in Khost, providing medical treatment for those injured in Wednesday’s earthquake. 

The quake struck a remote, deeply impoverished region of small towns and villages tucked among rough mountains near the Pakistani border, collapsing stone and mud-brick homes and in some cases killing entire families. Nearly 3,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged in Paktika and Khost provinces, state media reported. 

Officials said Pakistan has opened its border in the northwest to transport critically injured Afghans to hospitals in Pakistan. But it was unclear how many Afghans have arrived in Pakistan’s northwest from the quake-affected areas for medical treatment. 

Pakistan and Afghan Taliban officials pose for a photo in front of C-130, Pakistani aircraft carrying relief goods for Afghanistan's earthquake victims in Khost, Afghanistan on June 25, 2022. (@ambmansoorkhan/Twitter) 

Overstretched aid agencies said the disaster underscored the need for the international community to rethink its financial cut-off of Afghanistan since Taliban insurgents seized the country 10 months ago. That policy, halting billions in development aid and freezing vital reserves, has helped push the economy into collapse and plunge Afghanistan deeper into humanitarian crises and near famine. The effort to help the victims has been slowed both by geography and by Afghanistan’s decimated condition. 

Rutted roads through the mountains, already slow to drive on, were made worse by quake damage and rain. The International Red Cross has five hospitals in the region, but damage to the roads made it difficult for those in the worse-hit areas to reach them, said Lucien Christen, ICRC spokesman in Afghanistan. 

Also on Saturday, an Afghan military chopper transported food and other necessities to people in Gayan district in Paktika province. Dozens of men and children gathered in an open area under the hot sun to wait for food, water and tents from the Afghan Red Crescent. 

The aid organization said it would distribute relief items to around 1,000 families in the district, including food, tents and clothes. 


COVID-19 once again on rise in Pakistan as virus positivity soars to 3.19 percent 

Updated 25 June 2022

COVID-19 once again on rise in Pakistan as virus positivity soars to 3.19 percent 

  • Provincial authorities advised to administer booster doses to improve protection against infections 
  • Pakistan reconstituted pandemic response body after health officials detected new omicron sub-variant 

ISLAMABAD: The COVID-19 infections have once again been on the rise in Pakistan as the country reported 3.91 percent virus positivity rate on Saturday, the National Institute of Health (NIH) said. 

In late March, Pakistan disbanded the National Command and Operations Center (NCOC), which was overseeing the COVID-19 response in the country, as infection numbers were at the lowest since the start of the outbreak early in 2020. 

The South Asian country on May 23 reconstituted the NCOC at the NIH after health officials detected a new omicron sub-variant in a passenger arriving from Qatar. The new sub-variant of omicron is said to be highly infectious, though not as deadly as previous coronavirus strains. 

In the last 24 hours, health authorities conducted 13,644 tests for the virus, of which 435 came out to be positive, according to NIH figures. It constituted a 3.19 percent virus positivity ratio. 

 

 

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel presided over a meeting of the NCOC that advised all provinces and regions to administer booster doses on priority to improve protection against the virus transmission. 

“In view of the global pandemic situation, the Central Health Establishment (CHE) should strictly monitor the health status of incoming passengers at points of entry,” Patel was quoted as saying in a statement. “The CHE will be strengthened to enhance the functionality,” he added. 

The health minister stressed the need to adopt timely precautions, including social distancing and mask compliance, to avoid further spread of the virus, especially in the lead up to Eid Al-Adha. 


Pakistan reports 11th polio case of this year amid outbreak in northwest 

Updated 25 June 2022

Pakistan reports 11th polio case of this year amid outbreak in northwest 

  • All 11 cases have been reported in the northwestern North Waziristan district 
  • The outbreak is a blow to the South Asian nation’s efforts to eradicate the virus 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health authorities on Friday confirmed the 11th case of polio virus so far this year in the country’s former Taliban stronghold in the northwest, a region bordering Afghanistan. 

The outbreak, after the first polio case of 2022 was registered in the same region in April, is a blow to the South Asian nation’s efforts to eradicate the disease, which can cause severe paralysis in children. 

All 11 cases have been reported in North Waziristan, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where parents often refuse to get their children inoculated. 

“Polio [virus] confirmed in an eight-month-old child. The child hails from Union Council 7 of Mir Ali in North Waziristan,” a spokesperson for the Pakistani health ministry said in a statement. 

“This year all cases have been reported in North Waziristan. The number of cases in Mir Ali has reached eight.” 

Pakistan’s Health Minister Abdul Qadir Patel said authorities were taking emergency measures to contain the virus, according to the statement. He urged parents to get their children administered the anti-polio vaccine. 

North Waziristan, a former tribal region, was a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban until recently, when the military claimed to have cleared the region of militants following several wide-scale operations there. However, attacks still persist. 

Pakistan has for the past 25 years carried out regular inoculation campaigns in which health workers go door-to-door to give polio drops to children. Most of the workers are women, as they can get better access to mothers and children. The anti-polio teams are often escorted by security forces. 

So far this year, the government has carried out three nationwide anti-polio drives — in January, March and in May. During the March campaign, gunmen in northwestern Pakistan shot and killed a female polio worker as she was returning home after a day of vaccinations. And in January, gunmen shot and killed a police officer providing security for polio vaccination workers, also in the country’s northwest. 

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only countries in the world where polio remains endemic. In 2021, Pakistan reported only one case, raising hopes it was close to eradicating polio.