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August 1, 2020

Conspiracies, resistance to health system reforms forced Mirza to quit

National

August 1, 2020

KARACHI: Bureaucratic and political interference to health reforms, conspiracies and propaganda against special assistants by a well-connected clique, demoralized and compelled Dr. Zafar Mirza to quit as SAPM who was most sought-after personally by the prime minister. He quit his career at the WHO and worked for the motherland, a close aide to Dr Mirza told The News on Thursday.

Requesting anonymity, the aide said it was a hot summer day in Egyptian capital Cairo in mid-April 2019, when Dr. Zafar Mirza, serving as Director Health System Development of World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Eastern Mediterranean received a call from Pakistan. “On the other side of the line was the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan who introduced himself and requested Dr. Zafar Mirza to join the government as his special assistant on health as according to the PM, country needed trained and qualified experts like Dr. Mirza.” Mirza sought some time from the PM to think about it, but the very next day, he received another call from PM Imran Khan, at which he decided to quit WHO and left for Islamabad very next day. “Within 36 hours, he was sitting with PM Imran Khan at his Bani Gala residence and expressed his readiness to serve as his adviser on health.”

The government notified him as SAPM in April 2019 but on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 he was compelled to resign, Mirza’s confidante said. Except for the tweet in which Dr. Mirza announced his resignation, he has not spoken to anybody about reasons and circumstances that compelled him to tender his resignation but said he was planning to hold a news conference in coming days where he would disclose the circumstances that forced him to tender his resignation. “It was basically the attitude of bureaucracy, political pressure and the interference from his own party in addition to conspiracies, allegations and recent propaganda against special assistants that compelled him to resign,” the close aide said, adding that within a few months of working as SAPM, FIA and NAB started inquiries against him which were widely publicised by the “interested circles,” which further demoralized him.

“As Special Assistant to PM, Dr. Zafar Mirza tried to bring reforms in the health ministry but they were strongly resisted by both the bureaucracy and politicians. He believes that bureaucracy is the biggest hurdle in health system reforms in Pakistan while political pressure on people and technocrats like him are impediments in progress and development of the country.”

When asked why Dr. Mirza resigned in the middle of pandemic, he said Dr. Mirza felt that it was the right time to quit and let his successor to take over when Covid-19 situation has improved in the country with 80 percent reduction in the infection and drastic decline in the number of deaths.

Dr. Mirza is a public health specialist who post-graduated from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in “Public Health in Developing Countries” and before that practiced psychiatry for three years after his MBBS from Rawalpindi Medical College. Prior to joining WHO where he was in-charge of 22 countries of North Africa, Middle East and Western Asia as Director, Health System Development, Dr. Zafar Mirza had also formed “Qaumi Jamhoori Party QJP” with Omer Asghar Khan and Karamat Ali and was elected its first secretary general.

“He had also founded a civil society organization ‘The Network for Consumer Protection’ to generate public awareness about consumer rights and also trained civil society activists as well as journalists with skills to deal with patients at healthcare facilities,” his aide said. He recalled that as an Eisenhower Fellow in the United States in 1994, Dr. Zafar Mirza had presented his Urdu-translation of all time bestseller book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” to its author Stephen Covey, who was amazed to learn that a Pakistani doctor had translated his work in Urdu-language and praised his work in front of thousands of professionals at a congregation.

To a query, Dr. Mirza’s friend said despite serving abroad including Cairo and Switzerland, Dr. Zafar Mirza was not a dual national, which is the case with most of the Special Assistant’s to the Prime Minister, adding that he neither had the dual nationality nor he had the permanent resident status of any other country.

“And he is not going anywhere after his resignation. He is a Pakistani national only and he quit his job at WHO for the country where he had a long career ahead. He has decided to stay in the country and work for health system reforms to protect the patients,” Dr. Mirza’s confidante said.