Pakistan eyes $2b in health funding

In Business
March 31, 2024



ISLAMABAD:

Pakistan is eyeing foreign funding worth $2 billion to fight various diseases over the next four years, while also seeking an opportunity to collaborate with the United States in the area of health security.

The funding is being secured for interventions in various areas, mainly family planning, nutrition, hepatitis C elimination, and diabetes control, in addition to containing the spread of various viral diseases. Dr Nadeem Jan, former interim health minister, mentioned that the health ministry has been trying to secure $1.6 billion in grants and the remaining $400 million in loans.

Dr Jan stated that during the interim government’s tenure, the Ministry of Health received commitments of around $1 billion from GAVI, the Global Fund, the World Bank, USAID, the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the French Development Agency, and private charities. The process for obtaining another $1 billion in grants and loans has been initiated, with discussions beginning with the Global Fund and non-governmental stakeholders, according to Dr Jan.

In the first communication by any US President in almost five years, President Joe Biden has mentioned “greater health security” as one of the areas for advancing relations with Pakistan. The US has also shown interest in advancing relations in the areas of economic growth and access to education for all. In January this year, Pakistan also held a global health security summit. Biden’s emphasis on cooperation in health security provides an opportunity for Pakistan to seek support to fight various diseases. Dr Jan highlighted that the Global Health Security Momentum, an amalgam of 70 countries, can be utilised for health and climate gains, given Pakistan’s global health leadership. This momentum can also be used to advocate for climate justice.

Pakistan is eyeing a $289 million grant from the Global Fund, $210 million from Gavi, $100 million from the World Bank, $30 million from the UK government, and $100 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The caretaker government had initiated discussions for a $100 million loan from the IDB and $55 million from the French Development Agency, said the former health minister.

The US government has also planned a $50 million grant to Pakistan in the area of health security, with the process already initiated, according to Dr Jan. The UK government is also considering supporting Pakistan’s global health security agenda. China has also shown interest in investing around $300 million in modernising the health sector in Pakistan, he added.

Dr Jan highlighted that Pakistan loses over 15% of its GDP to ill health, malnutrition, population explosion, and communicable and non-communicable diseases. However, the country only allocates 1% of its GDP to health, which should be increased to 3%. He added that the health-economy nexus remains unexplored, holding huge synergistic potential. Pakistan’s pharmaceutical sector largely remains protected, leading to loss of productivity and lack of appetite for exports. He stressed the need to increase pharmaceutical exports and invest in human resources.

He also underscored the imperative for the new government to steer global health security leadership and formalise the “Islamabad Pandemic Accord” with member states, reached at the summit in January. The onus is on the new government to capitalise on and maximise this new health and economic model for Pakistan’s health sector and economy, remarked the former minister. This may require tough decisions that could be politically challenging but are nationally highly desirable.

The National Health Support Programme, amounting to $432 million, has been made operational after which the second tranche of budgetary support will be released to Pakistan to fill the gap in the implementation of the essential package of health services, said Dr Jan. He stated that the interim government also established a mechanism for providing technical assistance through the development budget. Funding for the polio eradication initiative, amounting to $155 million for three years, has been secured from the IDB and other donors.

The Child Investment Foundation has also agreed to work on nutrition in Pakistan through a matching fund of approximately $100 million, with negotiations underway, he added. Dr Jan explained that integrating polio eradication efforts into government structures and ensuring government ownership will greatly benefit Pakistan in its fight against polio. By placing the responsibility within government structures there will be improved coordination, accountability, and sustainability of polio vaccination campaigns.

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