Request for $1.5 million to set up PCR labs in all provinces yet to respond by SAARC Development FundSAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund also ineffective due to dispute about its use between India and Pakistan
The government's request to the SAARC Development Fund for $1.5 million to set up hi-tech laboratories in all seven provinces across the country has not been responded even after three months.
The Ministry of Health and Population had submitted its proposal to the fund following the Covid-19 pandemic some three months ago.
"We have not received the requested money from the fund," Dr Roshan Pokhrel, chief specialist at the Health Ministry, told the Post. "We had sought the money to buy protective gear, reagents and to set up laboratories."
The fund was established in 2010 to promote the welfare of the people in the SAARC countries, quality of their life, economic growth and social progress, among others.
According to officials at the ministry, the proposal was submitted at the suggestions of the fund officials who had also committed for a quick response.
"They had committed to respond to our proposal, but that has not happened yet," Bhim Sapkota, a senior public health administrator at the Health Ministry, told the Post.
"On Monday, I got an email that said the fund was reviewing the proposal, which was submitted three months ago."
The Health Ministry had consulted with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Finance while preparing the proposal. Sapkota said the officials at the ministries have been following up regularly about the progress on the proposal.
"We prepared the proposal at the suggestions of the fund officials and it does not ask for a huge amount of money," said Sapkota.
There are 22 small and big polymerase chain reaction laboratories operating across the country. Due to the lack of testing capacities in these laboratories to test hundreds of samples daily, specimens—nasal and throat swabs— collected from the suspected coronavirus infected people are being transported to Kathmandu and other big cities. As a result, test results have been delayed.
With the fund’s assistance, the Health Ministry was planning to expand its testing capacity by setting up labs in all seven provinces.
The SAARC Covid-19 Emergency Fund established in March has also become useless due to the dispute between India and Pakistan about its administration and utilisation.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had proposed the fund at the SAARC leader's virtual summit on March 15. Nepal had pledged $ 1million to the fund while India had committed $10 million. Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh had pledged $5 million, $ 3 million and $1.5 million respectively.
Likewise, Afghanistan had announced to contribute $1 million to the fund. Maldives and Bhutan had committed $200,000 and $100,000.
"Pakistan is of the view that the fund should be administered through the SAARC Secretariat, and its utilisation should be finalised through consultation between the member countries. However, India has insisted on keeping the fund outside the SAARC calendar," an official at the Health Ministry, told the post, on condition of anonymity. "Due to their rivalry, the fund has been useless."
Another official said that the amount pledged by SAARC member countries is in their bank account and no progress has been made about its utilisation.
“Even work procedure about its use has not been decided yet,” the officials said.