Amid Covid-19 fight, NIH becomes headless again

Updated 04 Aug 2020

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NIH spokesperson says process for appointment would be initiated soon to fill the post. — Photo courtesy NIH website
NIH spokesperson says process for appointment would be initiated soon to fill the post. — Photo courtesy NIH website

ISLAMABAD: While Pakistan’s achievement in fight against the coronavirus needs constant efforts to prevent a spike in new cases, the National Institute of Health (NIH) that played a key role in establishing a number of labs for Covid-19 tests has again become headless after three years.

NIH Executive Director Maj Gen Aamer Ikram’s tenure was completed on July 20 and since then the organisation has been functioning without an executive director.

In 2017, then brigadier Prof Dr Aamer Ikram of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Rawalpindi, was made the NIH executive director for three years on deputation.

Later, Dr Ikram, who is a microbiologist, was promoted to the rank of major general. However, he retired on July 20 and since then the position has been lying vacant.

Govt says process to fill position will be initiated soon

The post had to be filled through deputation, because the criterion for the position was so difficult to meet that the seat remained vacant for around seven years.

For the last over four decades, the NIH has been engaged in multidisciplinary public health-related activities such as diagnostic services and resea­rch. The institute is a World Health Org­anisation (WHO) collaborating centre for viral diagnostics and regional reference laboratory for polio in addition to being a national reference centre for diagnosis of influenza. It also works as the national laboratory for quality control of drugs and quality control of food.

An official of the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS), requesting anonymity, said that in March, NIH was the only lab that was conducting tests for Covid-19 and it played a role in establishing a number of labs, dashboard of cases, etc.

“As the body has become headless, specialisation in Pathology and Public Health, 21 years of experience and 10 research papers were required [to become eligible] for the post of executive director. Moreover, it is mentioned in the rules that the candidate should have served as a head of hospital but there is no hospital in NIH and no other institution like NIH in the country so that condition can never be fulfilled. I suggest that rules should be bit relaxed,” the official said.

While Health Secretary Aamir Ashraf Khawaja was not available for comments, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Health Services Sajid Shah told Dawn that the process would be initiated soon to fill the post. He asserted that the ministry was aware about the importance of the post.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2020