Parliamentary Oversight Critical to Public Trust in Vaccine Procurement

  • FAFEN Calls for Convening Special Session of the Parliament on COVID-19 Response

ISLAMABAD, December 29, 2020: Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) has called upon the legislators to convene a special session of the Parliament to assess the situation and institute a robust parliamentary oversight of all matters related to COVID-19 in general and deliberations and decision on choice(s) of vaccine in particular.

In its second monthly COVID-19 response monitoring report, FAFEN suggested that a serious effort at developing a broader consensus with active parliamentary oversight may help bring political legitimacy, focus, and transparency to several aspects of the government’s COVID-19 response, including the choice and procurement of vaccine(s). Greater transparency over the government policy and plans for vaccine procurement, costs, priority groups, general market regulation, and access will help allay public paranoia and enhance public trust. In addition, the government also needs to proactively address suspicions being expressed by certain quarters over the safety of any vaccine.

The report further emphasized the need for developing a much broader understanding and agreement among the political leadership at the national level to curtail the second wave of COVID-19 in the country. A more focused and integrated effort to reach a minimum understanding among the political stakeholders, followed by a thorough and well-coordinated awareness and sensitization campaign, may help the government in putting together a successful COVID-19 response. With government bodies like National Coordination Committee (NCC) and National Command Operation Center (NCOC) issuing warnings about the rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, the opposition believes the government is using the pandemic for political expediency.

The report also identified persisting health-governance challenges at both policy and implementation levels that, if not addressed, may spawn a significant health care crisis in the country. One of the key findings of the report identified that legislative oversight remained dormant during the month of November with only minimal activity in both houses of the Parliament. The few gathering, which did take place in the Parliament, only highlighted the differences between the opposition and the government.

The report is based on the data collected through stakeholders’ surveys and direct observation of enumerators deployed in 34 districts. It identified an addition of 35,863 new confirmed cases during November, the number of infections across the country rose from 333,093 on November 1, to 400,482 on November 30, 2020. The second wave is considered more lethal as the number of deaths also increased by 3,715.

Other key findings of the report are:

  • A clear and consistent communication strategy is lacking at both the regional and national levels leading to inconsistent compliance in public areas, offices, and even health facilities.
  • Capacity to handle the pandemic at the district level remains an issue that engenders significant variance in response by key stakeholders. Whereas government officials in 30 districts from where data was collected, reported sufficient healthcare infrastructure in place, most representatives of doctors and paramedics’ associations only partially endorsed the statement. Health facilities in the districts remain a significant concern as the testing, quarantine/isolation capacity, and other provisions such as ventilators are feared to fall short if the rate of infections is not slowed down/checked.
  • Capacity in terms of the numbers and skillset of healthcare providers is yet another area of concern; with as much as 59% of doctors and 34% of paramedic representatives reporting that their colleagues were not adequately trained/skilled to deal with COVID-19.
  • Coordination mechanisms established to manage the COVID-19 response during the first phase of the infections early this year largely remained intact in 27 of the 32 observed districts with key stakeholders, including healthcare staff, elected leaders, and CSOs, represented on coordination platforms. The respondents’ opinion about the effectiveness of coordination mechanisms in 27 districts reflected a variance, with the majority (74%) rating it between average to highly effective.

The urgency of adherence to SOPs only gets reinforced when contextualized in the global race to procure vaccine – a race that a poorer country like Pakistan does not have the resources to contest. With the government showing reluctance in imposing a complete lock-down and opposition may have reasons to see the government’s move to enforce SOPs as political maneuvering, Pakistan’s fragile healthcare system is at risk of crisis. A more serious effort to reach a minimum understanding among the political stakeholders followed by a thorough and well-coordinated awareness and sensitization campaign may help the government in putting together a successful COVID-19 response.

To download Urdu Press Release, click here       |     To download complete report, click here