Health ministry devolution: Medicines, vaccines worth over Rs1 billion in danger of going to waste

Disease control programmes inactive, associated officials terminated.


Sehrish Wasif August 18, 2011

ISLAMABAD:


Vaccines and medicines worth more than Rs1 billion are likely to expire since disease control projects for which they were bought are in limbo.


Following the devolution of the health ministry, officials responsible for these projects were verbally informed that they had been sacked and their salaries, due since June, were stopped. Additionally, the distribution of the medicines and vaccines has also been stopped in hospitals operating under the federal government, such as Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) and Polyclinic Hospital, among others.

According to official sources, the stocks include hepatitis vaccine worth Rs202 million, blindness control and HIV/AIDS vaccines, and Rs1 billion worth of medicines for the Expanded Programme on Immunization. If immediate steps are not taken for supply and distribution of these medicines and vaccines, they might expire and lose their efficacy, sources said.

A former health ministry official, requesting anonymity, said that there is no controlling authority to decide the distribution of the medicines and vaccines to the provinces as transport costs need to be considered and officials need to be hired and deputed for the task. Additionally he said the provinces lack cold chain for preserving the vaccine to maintain their efficiency. He said day by day the number of hepatitis patients are increasing in the country and “such lapses will make the situation more alarming”.

Polyclinic hospital’s Deputy Executive Director Dr Iftikhar Naru said that after the devolution of the health ministry, the hospital is not receiving any vaccine or medicine for disease control projects. He said the hospital presently has sufficient medicines and vaccines stocked; however, if these are not supplied in the future it will result in an acute shortage of the drugs.

He added that blood screening for HIV/AIDs patients is also being conducted by the hospital on its own, but it will not be able to sustain the costs for long.

Some of the officials attached to the disease control projects said that as per their contract, the health ministry was supposed to give them a one month’s notice before termination, “but these rules were violated as we have yet to receive a written notification from the government relieving us of our duties”. They said they were hired on merit and had been working with the health ministry on contract basis for the last 10 to 12 years. They said many officials that have been terminated are old and cannot get jobs elsewhere.

Another official said that around 47 officials from National Programme for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis, National AIDS Control Programme (NACP), NP-PCB and EPI will be filing a writ petition against the government in Islamabad High Court on their termination without notification.

He said that funds for their salaries had been allocated by the planning commission but the government transferred these to the provinces. “How can funds given under Public Sector Development Programmes be transferred to the provinces,” he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.

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