Transfer of experienced officials to hamper anti-polio efforts

Updated August 30, 2019

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As the province is struggling to contain polio outbreak, the government has transferred out six experienced officials that has adversely been affecting the operations of Emergency Operation Centre, an umbrella body spearheading immunisation activities, top polio official has informed a meeting of Technical Advisory Group on polio eradication. — AFP/File
As the province is struggling to contain polio outbreak, the government has transferred out six experienced officials that has adversely been affecting the operations of Emergency Operation Centre, an umbrella body spearheading immunisation activities, top polio official has informed a meeting of Technical Advisory Group on polio eradication. — AFP/File

PESHAWAR: As the province is struggling to contain polio outbreak, the government has transferred out six experienced officials that has adversely been affecting the operations of Emergency Operation Centre, an umbrella body spearheading immunisation activities, top polio official has informed a meeting of Technical Advisory Group on polio eradication.

“Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has recorded 44 of the countrywide 58 polio cases this year so far, up from one during the same period last year, and the outbreak is ongoing in 10 districts compared to four in 2018. The withdrawal of services of most experienced personnel has left EOC high and dry,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa EOC coordinator Kamran Ahmed Afridi told TAG’s meeting on Thursday.

Sources said that he pointed out that his team was transferred without his consent that would adversely affect vaccination as those officials were desperately needed because virus circulated in wider geographical area that could become more difficult to control.

Team of EOC coordinator transferred without his consent

Senior officials including Dr Imtiaz Ali Shah, director of expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) Dr Akram Shah, WHO’s Dr Sarfraz Afridi, Dr Illauddin, Dr Hamid and Abdi Nasir were transferred last month without assigning any reason, but the Bannu DHO and acting DHO in Lakki Marwat against whom commissioner Bannu had complained still worked there.

Last week, the health department surrendered services of EOC coordinator, the response of which is awaited from the office of chief secretary.

Mr Afridi, who became coordinator in January, synergised all EPI and polio vaccination programme in the province and tribal districts in May this year to be able to pool all resources and deploy the staff in a technical manner on need basis for dealing with the childhood ailment.

The move brought the EPI director, who came under the director-general health services prior to integration, under the control of EOC.

Having lost control over the resourceful EPI, the DH health services had also complained to secretary.

Now, the new EPI director is not attending the EOC meetings and not even a single official of the health department attended the important press conference held by EOC on the eve of the long-awaited vaccination, which had been suspended on April 22 due to reaction drama in Peshawar.

Sources said that Kamran Afridi informed the meeting that the ongoing vaccination campaign was in progress smoothly as no untoward incident was reported due to security arrangements in the designated districts. A huge workforce including WHO and Unicef staff had been deployed without any fieldwork or plans to cope with different challenge in different areas, he told the members of TAG.

“Communication strategy has terribly failed and we have to take into account ground realities while making strategies for specific areas,” he said.

The coordinator said that he could not transfer polio officials as there was no accountability or performance audit due to which the programme had not achieved the desired results in spite of 15 years efforts. Duplication of work by UN agencies was also an area of concern, he added.

He said that essential immunisation should be given attention and the EPI centres should be strengthened. He said Shangla and Torghar, listed as less dangerous, became endemic in the current year owing to weak immunisation programme.

In tribal districts, immunisation rate was 30 per cent.

The EOC official stressed the need for addressing structural issues to improve vaccination quality. Polio vaccination is over 90 per cent and scientifically the virus should have been eliminated but the quality of coverage is not up to the mark.

Health Secretary Dr Syed Farooq Jamil told Dawn that they did not attend every meeting because there were some other engagements otherwise it was the combined task of all of them.

“Health department is main stakeholder and we own it as well. The EOC coordinator’s task is coordinating activities of different departments and stakeholders as polio eradication is the task of different departments and donor agencies,” he said.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2019