ISLAMABAD: The head of Pakistan’s polio eradication programme resigned from his post on Friday, citing “personal reasons”.

The resignation of Dr Shahzad Asif Baig came at a time when the virus was seeing a resurgence, with three cases of the crippling disease already reported in 2024.

Even though the coordinator of the National Emer­gency Operations Centre for Polio Eradication said he was resigning for personal reasons, official sources said the government had already decided to replace him.

In his resignation, Dr Baig thanked frontline hea­­­l­th workers and his family.

“I am proud that during my tenure, Pakistan achi­eved the significant objective of stopping the transmission of the endogenous poliovirus. I have no doubt that under the leadership of the new Coordinator, Pakistan will achieve the next goal of interrupting all polioviruses.”

The performance of Dr Baig — who was included last month in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influe­ntial People in Health’ list for his efforts to eradicate polio — has been under the scanner over the deteriorating virus situation.

In the first five months of 2024, more environmental samples have tested positive for the virus than in the entire preceding year.

A recent stakeholder’s meeting was also informed that the poliovirus situation in Pakistan is worse than in Afghanistan.

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) meeting, held in Doha from May 22 to May 25, was told that 44 districts were affected by the virus in Pakistan since the group’s last meeting in June 2023.

Last month, Dr Baig was also admonished by the federal health ministry for his “inappropriate behaviour” during a meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council, where he had questioned the forum’s powers. “The inappropriate behaviour exhibited by you [the NEOC national coordinator] is both unacceptable and unprofessional,” the ministry’s letter added.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2024

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