The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday contested Pakistan’s claim that UN agencies were used in the CIA’s fake vaccination campaign in Abbottabad in 2011 to track down Osama bin Laden.
The public health arm of the UN took exception to the statement by foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam during a weekly news briefing last Thursday, and insisted that the world body had nothing to do with the Shakil Afridi controversy.
The foreign office spokeswoman had claimed that Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate the poliovirus were undermined by the fake vaccination campaign in which some UN agencies were also used.
In a statement issued here on Monday, WHO officials said that the UN has formally objected to Islamabad’s contention, following which it immediately received assurances that the statement made by the FO spokesperson was categorically incorrect and made in error.
“WHO welcomes this clarification by the government and trusts that the erroneous statement will be fully retracted,” it stated.
The health body expressed concern over the circulation of an “incorrect statement” that was made during a press conference convened by the foreign ministry on May 8. The WHO maintained that the statement alleged the involvement of UN agencies in actions supervised by Afridi.
The WHO reaffirms its position that all health programmes, including immunisation campaigns, must be used only for protecting and promoting health.
“WHO continues to categorically deplore the use of health interventions for any other reason and reiterates that there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between WHO and the ‘fake vaccination campaign’ conducted by Dr Afridi,” read the statement.
In the statement, the WHO reiterated its commitment and support to the government and people of Pakistan in their efforts to implement polio eradication strategies.
Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar also expressed her reservations over the FO’s statement in which it has linked UN agencies with Shakeel Afridi.
“Although UN is supporting Pakistan in numerous humanitarian projects, Afridi’s incident and fake polio vaccinations are damaging their efforts,” she said.
Gates to the rescue
A senior official close to the PM Polio Cell on the condition of anonymity said Dr Waqar Ajmal, a special representative of Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation for polio eradication in Pakistan and Afghanistan, has arrived Islamabad on Monday.
He will meet all the higher-ups of federal and provincial health ministries dealing with polio and will discuss the strengthening of accountability and management at district level.
He will also talk about reviewing, strengthening, effective implementation and sustainability of the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication.
In its mission statement, the foundation maintains that it works alongside partners on innovative ways to enhance polio surveillance and outbreak response, accelerate the development and use of safer and more effective polio vaccines, and galvanise financial and political support for polio eradication efforts.
In response to a query reading procurement of polio vaccine for the implementation of the strategy in the aftermath of travel restrictions imposed on Pakistan, the official said, “Though both federal and provinces will use polio vaccine from the available stock of vaccines for routine immunisation under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) and for anti-polio drives, it is feared that a shortage of polio vaccines may ensue in the country.”
EPI National Manger Dr Ejaz Khan said , “We have clearly conveyed to the provinces that they should procure polio vaccines on their own.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2014.