Provinces told to buy polio drops; army turns to govt

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Ikram Junaidi & Asif Chaudhry

LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: The government is scrambling to meet the rising demand for polio vaccine and immunisation certificates in the country in the wake of travel restrictions imposed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Punjab Health Department is expected to seek a relaxation in procurement rules to allow it to quickly purchase polio vaccine, while the country’s armed forces have asked the government to provide large quantities of the vaccine to fulfil its needs.

A meeting of the department’s steering committee on Wednesday decided to ask Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to waive Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules to facilitate the expeditious purchase of oral polio vaccine (OPV).

The committee was told that Punjab currently had only 400,000 doses of OPV in stock and that the province would require nearly two million further doses to avoid a crisis. The purchase will cost nearly Rs30 million, the meeting was informed.

According to a senior official privy to the meeting, the decision was taken following directions from the federal government that asked provinces to procure vaccine “from their own resources” to overcome the shortage.

“In the light of the 18th Amendment all implementation mechanisms stand devolved to the provinces. Provincial health departments shall ensure the implementation of new travel regulations and arrange requisite vaccine and human resource for the purpose,” said the Ministry of National Health Services (MNHS) in a letter written to the chief secretaries of all provinces, Fata, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.

This intimation comes as provinces already face a shortage of OPV, which was provided to them by the federal government under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI). Even after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the federal government had been obtaining vaccine from Unicef and providing it to the provinces, the official told Dawn.

Immediately, Rs30 million will be required for the procurement of the vaccine, he said, adding that the order will be placed after seeking approval from the chief minister.

Separately, in a letter sent to the MNHS director general, Brig Mustansar Mujib Ul Haq of the Pakistan Army stated that armed forces personnel engaged in frequent international travel during the course of their official assignments, as Pakistan is a major contributor to the United Nations’ various peacekeeping missions.

“Additionally several officers and soldiers proceed abroad for short courses and deputations,” the letter read.

In the letter, the ministry has been communicated the armed forces’ vaccine requirements. In it, the ministry has been asked to provide 60,000 doses to deal with the military’s requirements, 50,000 doses for army, 8,000 for the air force and 2,000 doses for navy personnel. The ministry has also been asked to provide 60,000 immunisation certificates to meet the armed forces’ requirements for the calendar year 2014.

An MNHS official told Dawn the ministry would be processing the military’s request on “priority basis”.

Latest victim

Also on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Polio Cell confirmed that another child had fallen victim to the poliovirus. Mir Fayaz, a 27-month-old from the restive Bara region of Khyber Agency, is the latest victim of the disease which had been thought to be eradicated from the world a few years ago. This brings Pakistan’s tally of diagnosed polio cases in 2014 to 62. Of these, 48 cases were recorded in Fata, nine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 5 cases have been recorded in Sindh.

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