PESHAWAR: The government has started restructuring of polio programme to give lead role to deputy commissioners and regain its powers from Unicef and WHO, who are at the helm of the programme so far, according to sources.

They said that the move was aimed at bringing the UN agencies under government’s control in accordance with recommendations of Technical Advisory Group (TAG) of the WHO on polio.

The review has been in progress for the last five months that will be completed by September 30. It will bring drastic changes at all levels of the programme and will make the deputy commissioner boss of polio programme at district level.

Proposed plan aims at bringing UN agencies under govt control

The commissioner will look after polio progarmme at divisional level in close coordination with Emergency Operations Centre, according to sources.

They said that Pakistan was struggling to cope with the poliovirus circulation but the programme was run predominantly by the UN agencies, outnumbering the government staffers that left it with no option but to regain the powers and run the programme and make local moves instead of relying on the UN.

Sources said that the deputy commissioner would also get control of financial matters of the programme in the district concerned. They said that Unicef failed to show improvement regarding polio eradication despite spending $150 million on community-based vaccination (CBV) programme. They added that Pakistan was the only country where Unicef was involved in field operations.

They said resources for polio programmes, including finances and PEI staff, were under the control of WHO and Unicef while the government was held responsible for polio cases.

Sources said that on Pakistan’s request, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative had obtained the services of the US-based firm, The McKenzie Institute International, to facilitate transition of power from the UN to government to be able to do away with the virus by making concrete decision with local approach, clear terms of reference and accountability for poor performers.

They said that the TAG meeting held on August 30 in Islamabad strongly recommended the plan before the December’s campaign with emphasis on one-team approach to ensure focused work and make all the staff, including highly-paid UN employees, to face action for showing laxity.

During the past few months, district administrations have complained about the UN polio staffers but no action has been taken against them. “The staff deployed by Unicef and WHO doesn’t come under the administration, which is held responsible. It prompted the restructuring to fully empower them,” said sources.

They said that the plan was to put in place a simple hierarchical structure in which WHO would lead operations as was the case throughout the world

“Its aim is to have simple and straight reporting lines at all levels in the programme with clear TORs and accountability for poor performance,” said sources. They added that under the proposed plan, the firm was working to evaluate and come up with restructuring of the nationwide programme to deliver results, which hadn’t been achieved under the existing structure for the past two decades when the polio eradication programme was launched.

Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta, when contacted, said that restructuring exercise of the programme was under process, however, he declined to elaborate details.

“Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is following 100 per cent recommendations of TAG and Independent Monitoring Board for Polio,” he said. According to him, they will share details about the restructuring of the programme with IMB’s people in a meeting scheduled in early October.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2019