The National Institute of Health (NIH) has finally established an antisera production plant, which will make the country self-sufficient in producing snake anti-venom and anti-rabies serum by Feb 2020.
At present, NIH is producing one-third of the country’s antidote requirement.
Once production begins, Pakistan will become self sufficient in the production of four antisera. The NIH also plans to export antisera because it has International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification.
The plant was established at a cost of Rs 751 million. Once production begins, by June 2020 Pakistan will not have to import anti-venom, the rabies serum, tetanus toxoid or the diphtheria antitoxin.
“The project was proposed in early 2000 and its cost was Rs 147 million. However, a Finnish team that was working on it left the country because of security issues in 2004. When I joined the NIH, during the tenure of the previous government, the situation was abysmal and there was only a structure so there was no hope that the plant would ever be established,” NIH Executive Director Maj Gen Dr Aamer Ikram said.
“I demanded financial support from the Planning Division and promised that the plant would be established in around a year. The Planning Division approved a revised plan and sanctioned Rs 751 million for the project. Now the plant has been completed and we will start production by mid-February,” he said.
“The country’s annual demand for anti-venom is about 80,000 to 90,000 vials. Around 50,000 vials of the anti-rabies serum are required, and around 30,000 vials each of the anti-tetanus and anti-diphtheria serums are required,” he said, adding: “However, the NIH produces almost a third of the required serums and the rest is imported.”
The plant would run in shifts and produce more vials that are required. We will not only provide them in the market but we will also start exporting them, as we have got ISO certificiation.
“Although our staff is capable of running the plant, the burden will increase in the near future due to manufacturing on a commercial basis, so we have prepared a new business model which suggests hiring some engineers and staff,” he said.
Dr Ikram said the NIH has prepared a surveillance system that makes it possible to collect data from across the country.
“We have our own server and cloud to store data, [which] is collected from 10 surveillance centres. Moreover, we are establishing 20 more surveillance centres due to which we will be in a position to cover the whole country. We collected data on dengue last year and the performance will be better this year,” he added.
Public health laboratories have already been established in Peshawar and Quetta, and efforts to set up some more in Lahore, Karachi, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit are ongoing, he said.
According to an official statement, Dr Ikram told standing committee members about the institute’s recent achievements, biological production and future plans for Pakistan’s public health security.
He said the institute was committed to supporting healthcare institutions all over the country in managing public health issues.