ISLAMABAD: Five health officials have been rotting in jail for two months because the inquiries by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) into their alleged hand in the spoilage of 1.3 million doses of vaccines in February this year have not concluded yet.

FIA investigators had discovered the spoiled vaccine in a raid on a store of the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI) of the ministry on April 27 and arrested the five. Two of them were employees of World Health Organisation (WHO), two of NHS and one of the Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) wing of the programme.

A ministry official, requesting anonymity, told Dawn that the WHO has dismissed its two detained officials and also a third one who had surreptitiously broken the news of spoilage to Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Ayesha Raza Farooq in an e-mail in February, for negligence.

This dismissed third WHO official became the complainant in the case the FIA has been prosecuting in the court of Special Judge Central.

“Our case is very strong. That is why the judge has rejected bail to the suspects,” Director FIA Islamabad Inam Ghani told Dawn.

“One of the suspects went to the high court for bail and the higher court too rejected his request.”

A sixth suspect wanted by FIA could not be arrested because he obtained bail before arrest, he said.

July 3 is the next date of hearing and the FIA official hopes “the case will conclude soon”.

FIA claims that Pentavalent Vaccine, worth Rs443 million, was damaged as low temperature could not be maintained for it due to non-functioning of a generator.

In the meantime, FIA’s intervention stalled the inquiry committee that the Ministry of NHS had formed, consisting of Joint Secretary Amir Sheikh, Executive Director PMRC Huma Qureshi and Adviser NHS Mazhar Nisar, to investigate the spoilage.

Minister NHS Saira Afzal Tarar had claimed at a media briefing on April 23 that her ministry had devised a mechanism to avoid such incidents in future. It turned out that the team which revamped the entire system of monitoring the vaccine was mainly assisted by USAID through its delivery project.

“Show cause notices have been served to three employees of the National Institute of Health who were responsible for the vaccine and one employee of Ministry of Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) who was responsible for the data management,” disclosed a ministry official.

“The notice on the IPC official was served because there was difference in available stock and the computerised record,” he said.

“However, FIA intervened during the inquiry and later arrested five officials. Since they are in jail there is no development in the inquiry of ministry of NHS for last two months,” he said. In his opinion, two bodies cannot punish suspects for the same act or crime. “So there is confusion, which can be resolved only in consultation with the FIA,” he said.

Member of the ministry inquiry committee Mazhar Nisar, while talking to Dawn, said that negligence of duty had been proved against the suspects but not any embezzlement.

“We have been waiting for the conclusion of the case of FIA and after that disciplinary action will be taken against the officials. Under disciplinary rules the major penalty can be dismissal from service,” he said.

While replying to a question Mr Mazhar said that all the issues related to vaccine safety, storage and utilisation in time have been resolved.

“Now vaccine data can be accessed from anywhere through web based system. Moreover, EPI operations can be monitored online. International good practices including scanning and stock sufficiency are being managed and monitored on daily basis,” he said.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2015

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