EDITORIAL: Pakistan’s performance during the pandemic has been impressive by any measure, but it cannot improve as it cannot take advantage of a rare WTO (World Trade Organization) waiver that relaxes rules. intellectual property restrictions on mRNA stings, allowing countries to produce vaccines against multiple viral diseases, including Covid.
And the reason is that the country does not even have a biotechnology factory capable of producing such vaccines. This is why senior officials at the NIH (National Institute of Health) fear that this opportunity, which stems from a proposal tabled by India and South Africa in October 2020 in light of the Covid pandemic, will not be a beggar. It’s a shame.
It also raises a number of very important questions. Firstly, having handled the worst of the pandemic pretty well, the best way forward is to produce shots locally and get as much of the world’s fifth largest population vaccinated as soon as possible and also at the lowest possible cost. .
But since we cannot benefit from this window and the balance of payments (BoP) is already strained, who will tell us how much more it will cost to import more vaccines than to produce them locally; if we had this ability? Second, we have sent a few scientists to a few countries to train for this facility, but every time they come back, they will still need procedural approval, and then also wait for the required facility to be set up? How long will it take for the official machinery to sanction this point of sale and at what price?
Third, has anyone realized that this shows, once again, how ill-equipped we are to meet the most pressing challenges of the 21st century? If we don’t have a factory capable of producing crucial and life-saving vaccines, we clearly don’t have too many people qualified enough to work on these things; let alone advanced global research.
Yet the calendars of our top politicians are far too full of issues like grabbing power, clinging to power, upsetting the whole apple basket if that’s what it takes to get power, etc. , to respond to the most pressing concerns of the people or the country. too much of their time.
And fourth, even if our scientists come back armed with the skills to erect the kind of facility needed, and the state is able to grant enough land and money to operate it in a few years, but the lease of the WTO expires at that time, will the issue of intellectual property rights be taken up again by the courts?
It is precisely because such questions remain unanswered that we have not yet been able to initiate even the essential reforms. Our friends the Chinese were able to build an entire hospital in just a few days, with all the latest facilities to deal with an emerging pandemic, when Covid first hit.
And here we are, a country that is older and still off to a better start, with much of the population deprived of the most basic medical care. It’s really no surprise, given such things, that we haven’t even thought about building the kind of human resources and academic infrastructure that we need these days.
The government must pay very close attention to this issue. The last thing anyone needs is for the country, especially the economy, to suffer simply because we wasted the initiative we so painstakingly built against Covid. And that too simply because we were unable to build on our lead.
Missing this window will cost Pakistan dearly. The best we can do now is keep it to a minimum.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2022