Polio cell abolition: UN bodies express concerns

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign. (File photo: AFP)

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, though many Islamists, including Taliban militants, have long opposed the campaign. (File photo: AFP)

ISLAMABAD, May 31: The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s fund (Unicef) have conveyed their apprehensions to the caretaker government over the abolition of the prime minister’s polio monitoring cell.

In a letter, they expressed the fear that the move would adversely affect the efforts to eliminate the crippling disease from Pakistan by 2014.

“Pakistan is one of the three countries in the world that have never stopped polio virus transmission and been a source for spread of the virus to countries in Asia and Africa,” they said.

The caretaker government recently abolished the cell and shifted it to the ministry of national health services, regulations and coordination.

The polio monitoring cell was established in 2011 by then PPP-led government for the coordination and monitoring of the immunisation programme under the direct supervision of the prime minister.

In a letter to Caretaker Prime Minister Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, WHO representative in Pakistan Dr Nima Saeed Abid and Unicef’s Dan Rohrmann said in 2012 the world health assembly had declared the completion of polio eradication as a programmatic emergency for global public health.

“Pakistan has developed National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP). The successful implementation of NEAP has reduced polio by 71 per cent from 2011 to 2012. This year, Pakistan has reported nine cases compared to 22 in the corresponding period last year,” it said.

“Central to the success of the NEAP has been the establishment of an all-of-government approach in which accountability was pursued for the programme implementation. These included at the provincial levels the chief ministers or chief secretaries and the deputy commissioners at the district levels. Coordination at the national level is accomplished through the direct oversight by the Prime Minister’s National Polio Monitoring Cell. It should be noted that the NEAP called for the appointment of an additional secretary to manage and lead the cell under the direct supervision of the prime minister,” it said.

“The international community is extending its full support to Pakistan and is closely monitoring the progress ahead of the end-2014 deadline to stop polio globally. This support spans technical assistance through WHO and Unicef staff surges, guidance and monitoring through the technical advisory group and the independent monitoring board among others and financing through the Islamic Development Bank and other bilateral partners.”

These advisory and monitoring bodies and the financial support are fundamentally based on the international confidence engendered by NEAP and the oversight, coordination, management and accountability structures that guarantee its full implementation and are in integral component of the NEAP.

The UN organisations’ representatives said the attack on polio workers in Peshawar this week emphasised the continued need for a high-level oversight and coordination as well as crisis management.

“We would like to draw your kind attention to the notification calling for the dissolution of the prime minister’s polio monitoring cell which appears to weaken the monitoring and oversight of polio eradication efforts,” they said.

According to the officials, the immunisation campaign run on one pattern in all parts of the country, including Fata and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

“There is a dire need to check the polio campaign in all the provinces because the prime minister secretariat can make accountable the provincial officials if they show any negligence and it would be easy for the donors and international organisations to implement the pattern followed by other member countries to flush out the curse of polio in Pakistan.”

Shahnaz Wazir Ali, former adviser to the prime minister on polio eradication, said the polio monitoring cell should be kept under the supervision of the prime minister for better coordination and monitoring.

She feared that polio eradication would once again revert to the old business as usual approach.

Rotary International also expressed concerned over the abolition of the cell.

In its letter to Mr Khoso and the prime minister in-waiting Nawaz Sharif, it urged them to take back the decision.

Source: DAWN

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