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ISLAMABAD, Jan 7: An inordinate delay in the purchase of measles vaccine by the federal government led to over 200 deaths because of the disease in the country.

Officials in Sindh — where most of the deaths were reported in the last two months — blame the federal government for the delay.

The delay also led to cost escalation of the measles vaccine from $2.4 for 10 doses to $4.25 for 10 doses, within one year.

The annual target for the government was to vaccinate over five million children across the country against measles and other vaccine preventable diseases.

According to an official privy to the developments, the Ministry of Inter-Provincial Coordination (IPC) could not manage the purchase of 3.5 million doses, on time, because of non-release of funds in September, 2012.

The IPC division has the mandate to run national health programmes in the interim period before the provinces takeover all the health-related subjects in light of the spirit of the 18th Constitution Amendment by June 30, 2013, said the official.

The IPC ministry could not ensure the timely grant from the finance division for the important public health initiative to save the lives of the children against the viral disease, added the official.

The official highlighted that the cost estimate for the measles vaccine was $3.5 for 10 doses in 2012 while it was $2.4 for 10 doses in 2013.

However, the government could not manage the purchase, since IPC division and the federal Expanded Programme for Immunisation (EPI) cell failed to ensure the release of grant to Unicef to purchase the vaccine within a certain timeframe, said the official.

The federal EPI cell has a task to ensure uninterrupted supply of vaccine to the entire country and to conduct monitoring and surveillance of vaccine preventable diseases of children and women.

The official indicated that now the cost for 10 doses of measles vaccine is $4.25 and the purchases would now have additional burden on the government’s kitty because of mismanagement on part of the ministry and the federal EPI cell.

In Sindh, where over 200 deaths were reported, provincial officials put the blame on the federal government’s EPI cell.

Dr Mazhar Khamisani, provincial head of EPI Sindh, told Dawn: “We have sent multiple requests to the federal EPI, since February, 2012, to release our funds, so we can purchase the vaccine by ourselves but the funds were not released before October 2012.”

Dr Khamisani maintained: “Since we were not given the grant by the federal EPI till October 2012, we were left with no option but to request the federal EPI to purchase the vaccine in the quickest possible time on its own for Sindh.”

It is pertinent to mention that EPI was given an extension by the office of the Prime Minister in November 2012 for its operations across the country, ignoring the fact that after the 18th constitutional amendment, federal EPI had no role to play in health matters at the federal level.

When approached, Dr Zahid Larik, head of the federal EPI, claimed: “The provinces wanted to purchase the vaccine on their own and once they failed, they asked us (federal EPI) in the last moments to go ahead with the purchase of the vaccine.”

Dr Larik maintained that they were able to purchase the measles vaccine at the old rates for 3.5 million children with 10 doses costing $3.4.

He said that his department had purchased the new batch of vaccine in the last week of December 2012.

“It’s wrong to highlight a ballooned figure, besides, we are not responsible for the inordinate delay nor have faced any delays from the finance division relating to the release of funds for the purchase of vaccine,” insisted Dr Larik.