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Saturday July 20, 2024

National coordinator resigns: Lobbying starts for polio eradication post

By M Waqar Bhatti
June 01, 2024
Dr Shahzad Baig is seen speaking in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme
Dr Shahzad Baig is seen speaking in this still taken from a video. — YouTube/Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme

ISLAMABAD: Senior government officials have started lobbying to lead Pakistan’s polio eradication programme following the resignation of Dr Shahzad Baig, who was heading the National Emergency Operation Center (NEOC) as National Coordinator. Dr Baig resigned on Friday, citing personal reasons.

But Dr Baig’s resignation came amid reports that the federal government had decided to replace him with a senior government official of BPS-21 or above to lead Pakistan’s polio eradication initiative. The outgoing NEOC national coordinator was advised to resign.

In his resignation letter to the federal health secretary, Dr Baig stated he was stepping down due to personal reasons. He claimed that during his tenure, Pakistan achieved the significant objective of stopping the transmission of endogenous poliovirus.

However, officials in the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination (NHS, R&C) said Dr Baig was asked to resign due to his failure to control the spread of wild Poliovirus 1 throughout the country.

Both the government and international partners were reportedly dissatisfied with the performance of the Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) of Pakistan.According to the NHS official, the wild poliovirus is spreading rapidly in Pakistan, with 153 environmental samples testing positive for polio in 39 districts so far. In 2023, 126 environmental samples tested positive for poliovirus in 28 districts.

Following Dr Baig’s departure, several names are under consideration to lead the PEI, with a final decision expected from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif soon.The NHS official claimed that as Dr Baig was not a government employee, his attitude led to coordination issues that derailed the polio eradication programme. Provincial coordinators and senior government officials had complaints about him, with some even sending letters to the prime minister against him.

It is worth mentioning here that partner organisations have urged the PM’s coordinator on health to appoint a senior government official as the NEOC lead quickly, as the high transmission season is approaching and immediate efforts are required to contain the spread of poliovirus.

Lobbying has already started in the federal capital for the NEOC’s national coordinator post, considered highly lucrative due to its influence, perks, privileges, international exposure, and frequent travel.

“Several senior bureaucrats, including secretaries, special secretaries, and other officials, have started approaching the Prime Minister’s Office, National Coordinator on Health, President House, and other corridors of power to become the national Coordinator of the NEOC,” the official said.