KARACHI: Sindh Health Minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed on Tuesday sought to deflect criticism of the health ministry’s handling of measles outbreak that caused hundreds of deaths over the past couple of months by blaming misreporting of the toll and citing other reasons such as malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhea for it.
The minister also called for supervision of private bodies and non-governmental organisations associated with vaccination activities.
Since its outbreak, measles deaths were no more than 219, including 138 deaths of children, by Feb 12 in eight badly hit districts of upper Sindh, asserted Dr Ahmed while responding to the criticism the ministry drew over measles deaths during the assembly session.
In December when the disease broke out there were 93 deaths in Sukkur, Khairpur, Larkana, Kambar-Shahdadkot, Shikarpur, Jacobabad, Ghotki and Kashmore districts, followed by 36 in January and nine deaths were reported this month, he said, adding that a total of 81 deaths were recorded in Karachi, Thatta , Badin, Sanghar and Dadu districts.
“These figures were not from my department but collected from the relief and revenue departments and DEWS, WHO wing of disease early warning response system,” he said. The minister claimed that the falling rate of death figures was the outcome of expeditious efforts to vaccinate children against the disease, measures taken for creating awareness, precaution and routine immunisation.
However, he said, the team he was given was not of his choice. If the team was not prepared to work, it was difficult to go along and he had to remove some of the EDOs, DHOs and supervisors for the purpose, Dr Ahmad said.
Referring to the speeches earlier delivered in the house, the minister said that exaggerated figures and misreporting of deaths from vaccination were not going to help in any way.
He said that deaths of children were caused not only by measles but also by malnutrition, pneumonia and diarrhoa.
He also tried to justify the role of his department in controlling the disease when he said the vaccine being used for routine immunization to children were the same as being used to check measles provided by the donor countries, Unicef and WHO.
He added that measles were not restricted to Sindh but Punjab, Balochistan and Pakhtunkhwa also remained in its grip.
Earlier, Speaker Nisar Ahmad Khuhro, who was presiding over the session, took up three private resolutions and an adjournment motion related to measles deaths, maternal and child healthcare and the need to control mortality rate.
The movers of the resolutions were Syed Bachal Shah, Humera Alwani and Syeda Marvi Rashdi while the adjournment motion was tabled by Nusrat Seher Abbasi.
Referring to the initiatives related to maternal and child health care and control of infant deaths, the minister said awareness played an important role in health care. He said the government had started many programmes related to the health of mothers, newborns, infants and children. He also cited midwives and lady health visitors training programme aimed at creating awareness.He said the government was striving to provide mammography machines in major hospitals under the ADP because breast cancer could be dealt with if detected at an early stage. Therefore, he added, there was a need to create awareness among women about breast disease so that it could be detected at the initial stage.
When the resolutions were put to the house, they were passed unanimously.
Earlier, the house unanimously adopted the resolution of Pakistan People’s Party lawmaker Anwar Ahmed Khan Maher related to girls’ education.
It read: “This assembly resolves that government of Sindh take proper /effective measures to improve the female literacy ratio and bring it to the level of at least 80 per cent by 2015.”
Over a dozen lawmakers expressed their views on the resolution and highlighted the importance of female education for an enlightened society and to achieve the goals of progress and prosperity.
They also emphasised the need to change mindset regarding girls’ education in a society where girls such as Malala Yusufzai were being attacked only because they wanted to see girls educated.
Senior Education Minister Pir Mazharul Haq said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had been provided with a list of schools occupied by feudal lords and those in the use of law-enforcement agencies.
Citing Jinnah courts in Karachi, Muslim Hostel of Noor Mohammad High School in Hyderabad and Government College hostel in Kalimori, the senior minister said there were some 92 such institutions in Sindh while 262 in Punjab that were handed over to the law-enforcement agencies in the past.
But, he added, the present government was making efforts to get the buildings vacated by providing funds to the law-enforcement agencies to build alternative complexes.
Pir Mazhar said the previous government had built 1,100 schools which were being used as autak by influential people. The government also checked the funds being drawn by ghost teachers and other staff.
He said 800 primary schools were upgraded to middle level and middle schools into high schools while 25 new colleges were opened. Besides, the Sindh Education Foundation was set up that was promoting education by setting up quality institutions, he added. He said such measures had resulted in increasing women’s literacy rate from 26 to 36 per cent.
The minister said a bill for free and compulsory education was also on the card.
The house also unanimously adopted a resolution, which was tabled by Rifat Khan, when put to vote after brief speeches. By the resolution, the government Sindh was asked to take steps to ensure that transporters issue tickets to passengers so that disputes between passengers and transporters may not occur.
Domestic violence bill
Humera Alwani drew attention of the chair towards the private bills submitted about domestic violence against women and children pending with the law department. Women Affairs Minister Tauqir Fatimah Bhutto informed the house that the law minister had promised that seven related bills on the subject were vetted by the law department and clubbed together which would be received on Feb 14.
The adjournment motion about children deaths from measles, which was on the order of the day, could not be taken up for admissibility. The motion was put off till Wednesday.
The law minister informed the house that the briefing on law and order scheduled for Wednesday be deferred to Thursday as the police chief was proceeding to Islamabad to attend a DPC meeting for grade 20 and 21 officers on Wednesday.
The house allowed the law minister to withdraw consideration of Bill No 4 of 2013 while the bill no 7 of 2012 regarding the Sindh Control of Goondas (Amendment) Bill, 2012 of Arif Mustafa Jatoi after its introduction was referred to the standing committee on law and parliamentary affairs.
Lawmakers Salim Khurshid Khokar and Petamber Shewani drew attention of the chair towards their private bill against forced conversion, which was lying with the minority affairs department, and demanded that the bill be brought on the agenda.
Mr Khuhro, who called the house in order at 11.05am before calling it a day at 3.30pm to meet on Wednesday at 10am, said apart from adoption of the resolutions one had to see how far resolutions were implemented in terms of legislation and administrative steps.