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No experiments, please: Polio cell’s status

June 04, 2013

AFTER placing the Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell under the federal ministry for national health services, regulation and coordination in late May, the decision has apparently been reversed by the caretaker government. The move to de-link the cell from the prime minister’s office was criticised by various quarters, including the World Health Organisation and Unicef. The cell, established by the former PPP government in 2011, was apparently doing useful work in the fight against polio. Though the battle is far from won polio cases in the country came down by around 70 per cent in 2012 as compared to 2011, while some estimates suggest that the number of cases recorded this year so far is also less than the number in the corresponding period last year. Hence such indecision on part of the state — throwing this key anti-polio cell back and forth between government bodies — is troubling, all the more so as it caught many stakeholders off guard.

While health is a devolved subject, some sort of national coordination is needed considering the challenge polio poses and the fact that it is an inter-provincial problem. In fact, due to our inefficiency in tackling polio Pakistan is considered an ‘exporter’ of the crippling ailment to parts of Asia and Africa. It is the new elected government’s call whether to keep the polio cell under the PM’s office or to make some other arrangement. However, it must be kept in mind that any decision should be taken after thorough consultations with all stakeholders — the provinces, multilateral donors and experts. Also, it must be ensured there are no hiccups in the immunisation programme due to bureaucratic shuffling. The simple fact is that Pakistan cannot afford to indulge in experiments where polio is concerned.