By Abdul Qadir Qureshi
(Pakistan News & Features Services)
Immunization programme managers, health policy planners and private sector officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan attended a four-day skill-building workshop at Aga Khan University on the planning of financially sustainable national vaccination programmes.
Pakistan and Afghanistan rely on the financial support of the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) for their nationwide routine immunization programmes.
From 2020, Pakistan will need to take on greater responsibility for financing the provision of these life-saving vaccines as GAVI phases of support in order to focus on the needs of the world’s poorest countries.
Pakistan is currently in the preparatory transition phase and this shift requires the country’s health planners to develop the advanced skills needed to move towards self-sufficiency.
“We’ve applied economic concepts and used real-life case studies from around the world to share practical lessons on how to plan a sustainable response to forthcoming financing challenges. Interestingly, we have kept a mix of public and private sector trainees so that we can develop a network of knowledgeable resource people who can collectively respond through pooling expertise and blended financing,” Dr Shehla Zaidi, regional trainer and an associate professor in Community Health Sciences and the Department of Women and Child Health at AKU, remarked.
The Sindh Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho said: “Donor commitment for vaccines is declining and we have to make arrangements to fill this gap when the GAVI and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation support disappears. There should be arrangements for the local production of vaccines as this will help improve the financial sustainability of programmes.”
The workshop was the first of three such capacity building workshops funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on vaccine economics and financing.
During the workshop faculty from the Aga Khan University, Johns Hopkins University and senior figures from the World Health Organization (WHO), provided training sessions to immunization sector stakeholders.
Speaking about the goals of the workshop, WHO’s Representative to Pakistan Dr Mohammad Assai said: “Vaccines save over 2 million lives a year and represent one of the most cost-effective ways to protect children and adults from disease. By addressing critical gaps in the financial planning and management of immunization programmes, these workshops will ensure that vital health programmes can manage forthcoming challenges. They will also make sure that decisions to introduce new vaccines are based on sound evidence.”
The workshop ended with a panel discussion featuring a mix of public and private sector representatives from Pakistan and Afghanistan, moderated by literary critic and former public health specialist Asif Farrukhi, and chaired by Sindh Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho.
The sessions under the workshop represent the university’s efforts to support Goal 3 of the Sustainable Development Goals which call for countries around the world to ensure the availability of safe, effective, quality and affordable vaccinations for all.