KARACHI: Members of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) locked up the vaccine store on Friday, thus blocking the delivery of polio vaccines just before the this year’s second anti-polio drive. Alarmed by the development, the World Health Organisation (WHO) immediately rang up the prime minister. The vaccinators hadn’t been paid for nine months and demanded regularisation.
After the call, the prime minister entrusted the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) with the job of getting the matter solved. After a four-hour long meeting on the same day, the vaccinators were assured that their salaries will be released immediately and the summary for their regularisation will also be sent to the chief minister within the next few days. The strike was called off and the vaccine store was unlocked.
The store is inside the office of Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) near Jinnah hospital and it supplies vaccines all over Sindh.
GAVI is a public-private global health partnership which works for making immunisation accessible to the people. Its vaccinators work for the government when it launches different health drives. According to the chairman of Vaccination Welfare Association Sindh, Syed Junaid Ahmed, a vaccinator earns Rs250 a day for working with a team and the area in charges are paid Rs2,300 per campaign. There are around 700 GAVI workers in Sindh and around 200 in Punjab.
However, Ahmed warned that despite the allaince’s decision to participate in the campaign, they can lock the store again if their demands were not met. Apart from the demands under discussion, the workers’ grievances also include the fact that they were hired at a much lower grade than vaccinators in other provinces. “We started at grade six in Sindh against grade nine in Punjab,” he said. “And we are not even recognised as technicians.”
As of now, the polio campaign is set to begin from March 14 instead of March 12, without any help or interference from the PDMA, according to an official of the polio programme. Around 12.6 million children in 67 high-risk districts of the country will be immunised. Around 1.9 million children are in Sindh.
Pakistan is one of the last three countries in the world which still has not been able to eradicate polio. Last year out of the 649 cases reported worldwide, 198 cases were from Pakistan. This year, 12 cases have been reported already.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2012.