Govt takes control of polio mobilization staff in KPK

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PESHAWAR, July 22: The provincial government has taken control of the UNICEF-sponsored polio mobilization staff to streamline advocacy programme and create demand for vaccination against polio, according to sources.
Previously the mobilization staffers worked with polio programme of health department but they were managed by UNICEF which had employed them.
“The government has started issuing identity cards to social mobilization officers, who worked under UNICEF until now. They would be treated like regular employees of the health department. The health department will be able to take action against them,” officials said.
A report recently sent by UNICEF to donor agencies says that issuing of cards will boost up security of Com Net staff besides inculcating in them a sense of the programme’s ownership. It says that the staff will come under government and it will have no link with UNICEF.
Sources said that the staff had also been facing security problems in Fata.
UNICEF, which is supporting polio campaign under an agreement with Pakistan and CHIP Training and Consulting, created Communication Network (Com Net) to create demand for oral polio vaccine (OPV) in high risk districts of the country two years ago.
The recruitment of the staffers, who get lucrative salaries, cars with drivers, fuel charges, cellular phones and laptop, had drawn criticism from the district administration and health department. The staff was placed under the provincial and Fata health departments to utilize its services.Prior to the new arrangement, the staff worked under the UNICEF with health department to scale up awareness about vaccination in the province but the latter often complained about its utility due to which it was placed on its disposal.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata had taken 200 and 165 communication officers respectively to utilise their services. “Their performance was not up to the mark. The provincial and Fata health authorities objected to their appointments because they wanted roles in the recruitment process,” sources said.
The district health officers (DHOs) were not satisfied with their work because they hadn’t any control over them, sources said. “The number of refusals had soared. The Com Net staff stayed away from duty places due to security reasons. They will now be working with government employees and will face disciplinary action, like other employees, if they fail to work,” officials said.
They would get salaries from UNICEF but would work under the government, they said. “We have cut down refusals which had gone from 22,000 in 2012 to 35,000 in 2013 due to lack of mobilization activities,” they added.
Officials said that the move was aimed at managing mobilization activities more effectively. “Our staff worked in high-risk union councils of Peshawar, Charsadda, Mardan, Nowshera and Lakki Marwat. Besides the existing number, 100 are being appointed to deploy them where needed,” a relevant official said.
Fata has recorded 12 polio cases, followed by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with five cases of the total 21 countrywide in 2013. Due to existence of virus, the World Health Organisations had been calling for effective immunisation to cover all children.
Dr Jan Baz Afridi, head of provincial immunisation programme, told Dawn that the decision had been made on the demand of the health department.
The Com Net staff would now work in provincial communication technical committee recently formed to apply brakes on refusals against polio vaccine, he said. “We will be employing localized strategies to improve immunisation and prevent childhood diseases,” he said.
He said that it would improve coordination and they would be able to run immunisation campaigns efficiently. “We are in polio eradication phase and we need to have good quality campaigns because vaccination of all children till five years is the only solution to achieve polio-free status,” Dr Afridi said.

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