Taking notice of media reports regarding the closure of the polio monitoring cell at the Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Caretaker Premier Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has ordered it be restored immediately.
Premier Khoso announced the decision after receiving a presentation by federal minister Dr Sania Nishtar over the implications of the cell’s closure on national polio eradication efforts.
The move comes apparently in response to a letter by the World Health Organisation asking for the polio monitoring cell’s restoration. The special envoy of the Bill Gates Foundation, Dr Waqar Ajmal, had also conveyed his fears to the caretaker government that the cell’s closure could mean losing $130 million in aid from the foundation for polio eradication efforts.
The Independent Monitoring Board has also recommended the restoration of the cell to help eradicate the crippling disease from the country. It warned that the next six months were ‘absolutely vital’.
The cell, which was established by the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government to coordinate between Pakistan’s health authorities and international donors in 2011, was reportedly dismantled by the caretaker government towards the end of May. The move drew severe criticism from international donors at the time.
According to official sources, however, the polio monitoring cell had not been dismantled. They maintained that the notification issued by the PM Secretariat in this regard had actually declared the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination the apex authority for all Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI) activities. This notification, they added, was misinterpreted leading many to believe that the polio monitoring cell had been closed.
The sources said that by placing the cell and the EPI activities under the health ministry’s authority, the government sought only to streamline the polio eradication efforts. They claimed the decision was taken following complaints that several persons associated with the cell at the PM Secretariat were claiming perks and privileges without entitlement.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2013.