ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has rolled out its first ever locally produced ventilators for deployment at hospitals treating coronavirus patients as the national tally of COVID-19 infections rises to nearly 232,000.
The pandemic has killed about 4,800 people since late February when it reached the South Asian nation of about 220 million; however, officials have reported a consistent decline in new infections and deaths from the infection over the past week.
Prime Minister Imran Khan Monday inaugurated the production unit and handed over the first batch of ‘SafeVent SP100’ portable ventilators to the national disaster management agency.
The facility in the northern town of Haripur has a production capacity of up to 300 ventilators a month.
An official statement quoted Khan as describing production as “a landmark achievement” for Pakistan, which has long been criticized for importing crucial medical supplies, including ventilators, despite having developed sophisticated nuclear weapons.
Pakistan’s public health care system has for decades suffered from neglect, lack of funding and corruption, which encouraged expensive hospitals in the private sector to flourish in a country where about 25 percent of the population live below the national poverty line.
Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry recently told parliament there were only 1,400 functioning ventilators in government hospitals across the country when the pandemic hit it, immediately leading to an acute shortage of the life-saving equipment for critical coronavirus patients.
Pakistan’s close ally China, however, swiftly stepped in and sent urgent relief supplies, including hundreds of ventilators, millions of masks and testing kits, worth more than $55 million, enabling Islamabad to deal with the unfolding health-related crisis.
The United States also has pledged millions of dollars in new aid for Pakistan to help combat the ailment. President Donald Trump’s administration has already donated 100 ventilators to Islamabad out of a promised 200 machines.
Chaudhry, while hailing the U.S. “gesture of friendship,” said in a statement that Pakistan, in a short span of four months, has now begun its own large-scale production of sanitizers and personal protection equipment, noting the medical supplies are already being exported to the United States.
"In the next three years, Pakistan will have its own big medical and electromagnetic industry and I have no doubts that USA will be our major client,” the minister pledged.
Chaudhry also said three new manufacturing facilities in the public and private sector are being installed for commercial production of ventilators. He noted that Pakistan annually imports medical supplies worth more than $2 billion and pays an additional $1 billon in service agreements to run the equipment.
The minister said domestic production of medical equipment will save Pakistan much-needed foreign exchange and the country will be self-sufficient in next five years so it will not have to import any medical supplies.