ISLAMABAD - Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) to achieve better results in polio eradication programme has decided to re-assign the position of National Coordinator to the official replaced by ex-Focal Person of Prime Minister on polio programme Babar Bin Atta, The Nation learnt on Thursday.

Sources informed The Nation in a meeting held in National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC), running the polio eradication programme; it was decided to re-assign the job to Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar.

Dr. Safdar worked as National Coordinator on polio eradication programme in previous government, when the number of cases was reduced to 8 in 2017 and 12 in 2018.

However, he was allegedly replaced by Atta over differences on new strategy of running the programme.

Atta tendered his resignation previous month claiming that he cannot continue with the portfolio because of his personal reasons.

However, it was alleged that he was forced to resign from the position because of incompetency in handling the sensitive programme.

Since Atta assumed the charge of Prime Minister focal person on polio eradication programme, the toll of polio cases increased to 80 in 2019.  Sources said that Dr. Safdar had decided to quit as National Coordinator as was not convinced with the strategy of previous focal person of handling the programme.

Senior officials linked with National Emergency Operation Centre working to eradicate polio from the country said that several administrative flaws led to surge in polio cases in the country.

Official said that the political transitions since 2018 and lack of understanding on the administratively sensitive matters of polio programme by new top management ‘mishandled’ the programme.

“Political friction harmed the centralised administrative set-up of the programme,” said the official. The new set-up focused more on ‘aggressive’ administrative and media strategy than focusing to convince the public to cooperate in the anti-polio drive, said the official.

Dr. Safdar was assigned as head of Disease Surveillance Division at the National Institute of Health.

Spokesperson Ministry of National Health Services Sajid Shah while confirming the development said that Dr. Safdar has been given the position looking into his experience in tackling the polio eradication programme.

He said that Dr. Safdar has grip on polio eradication programme and he had also delivered earlier when he was running the programme.

He also said that in recent three-day anti-polio drive in 25 districts of the country around 5.9 million children were immunised.

Special Assistance to Prime Minister on NHS Dr. Zafar Mirza in his social media message regarding polio campaign wrote “I commend polio teams vaccinating more than 5.9 million children under 5 years of age in last 3 days with the support of parents and community members across 25 districts of Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh.”

However, International Health Regulations showing concerns over polio outbreaks had recommended further three-month temporary travel restrictions on Pakistan.

The IHR, World Health Organization (WHO) body, in its 22nd Emergency Committee meeting held previous month regarding the international spread of poliovirus, expressed grave concerns on polio situation in the country.

The statement draft said “The Committee is gravely concerned by the significant further increase in wild poliovirus (WPV1) cases globally to 73 in 2019 to date, compared to 15 for the same period in 2018, with most of the increase due to the ongoing outbreaks in Pakistan.”