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Pakistan running out of funds for polio campaign

Publication Date : 28-08-2014

 

If new funds are not arranged soon for the faltering anti-polio campaign in Pakistan, it is likely to halt after two months, according to sources in the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS).

An official of the ministry told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the ministry was running out of funds.

The Economic Coordination Council (ECC) was supposed to approve the planning commission for the campaign in second week of August, but has not met owing to political crisis.

Under the commission, the Islamic Development Bank, Japan and other organisations were to provide a loan of $326 million, with the interest on the amount to be paid by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the official said.

“If the funds are not arranged in next two months, the ministry would be left with no option but to halt the countrywide polio campaign,” he added.

In November, the World Health Organisation is to review the temporary travel restrictions it imposed on Pakistan in May 2014, on the recommendation of the International Health Regulations, which made it mandatory for every person intending to travel abroad to produce polio vaccination certificate at airport.

For now, it is obligatory on the government to vaccinate each person going out of the country, the official said.

“In 2012, Central Development Working Party (CDWP) gave approval to the loan. In June 2013, the commission was revised but still it could not be approved because of one objection after another,” he said.

“Once the commission is approved, the funds will be transferred to World Heath Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) which are supervising the campaign,” the ministry official said.

“The financial problem is more acute for Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan than Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) where funds are provided through United Arab Emirates Pakistan Assistance Program (UAE PAP),” he said.

“In case of unavailability of funds, it will become impossible to pay salaries to almost 2000 highly paid communication officers who are raising awareness of polio vaccine among parents,” he said.

“Most of the officers have been working for the last two years and once they leave because of delay in payment of salaries it will become difficult to hire trained officers. Moreover, stipends to polio workers have also been delayed,” he said.

“Vaccine could not be provided at the Chaman border due to which people coming from Afghanistan could not be vaccinated for the last many days,” he said.

When contacted, the minister of NHS, Saira Afzal Tarar, claimed that she had been trying her best to arrange funds from alternative sources.

She told Dawn that she was aware of the increasing operational cost and issue of funds.

“Central Development Working Party (CDWP) approved the commission but the planning division insisted that since health is a provincial subject after 18th Amendment the matter should be referred to Council of Common Interest (CCI).

However, the provinces gave in writing that they had no objection on planning commission so finance minister Ishaq Dar has agreed to discuss the issue in Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of cabinet,” she said.

“The ECC meeting was scheduled in second week of August but because of political crisis representatives of different provinces did not come,” she said.

“I am also trying to get the funds and resolve the issue or call a meeting of ECC on the planning commissionI for polio,” she said.

While replying to a question regarding non-provision of vaccine at Chaman border, Tarar said although it was provincial issue, she will inquire into it.

 

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