ISLAMABAD-In March 2019, the National Health Services ministry had sought Prime Minister Imran Khan’s approval to sack Babar bin Atta from the post of PM’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication while issuing warning about the looming polio disaster in the country because of his reckless attitude towards polio eradication.

The Prime Minister’s Office, however, ignored the ministry’s warning which led to an alarming spread of polio cases in Pakistan as the global Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on Polio eradication in its recent report has noted, “Pakistan (Polio) programme is on failing trajectory, putting the rest of the global program at risk.”

Last week, Babar bin Atta resigned from the post stating that he had done so to look after his ailing father. Media reports, however, suggested that he was asked to resign due to growing complaints against him and the country’s global embarrassment because of the surge in polio cases in Pakistan during the PTI government’s tenure.

The TAG report warned that Pakistan’s polio programme is failing because of i) Failure of coherent vision and unified strategy (one team), ii) Failure of national-provincial-district-UC management; iii) Failure of focus on effective, high-quality program activities; and iv) Failure to build trust with communities.

Official documents reveal that on March 12, 2019, the Ministry of National Health Services Regulations & Coordination moved a formal summary for the prime minister, seeking de-notification of Babar Bin Atta as Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication. Atta, who was earlier managing social media of Jehangir Tareen and the PTI, was appointed against this post on October 10, 2018.

A day after sending the summary for the prime minister for Atta’s removal, the ministry forwarded to the PM”s Office a two-page non-paper explaining the circumstances that in the ministry’s view necessitate the denotification of Babar bin Atta as PM’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication.

The non-paper. Available with The Nation, gives the following reasons:

a) The incumbent (Atta) since his nomination continues to project polio programme in negative light through media statements bringing the programme into disrepute that has had a serious impact on programme’s image thus affecting public acceptance of polio vaccination and creating parental refusal.

b) The incumbent has indulged in excessive self projection misusing his position for personal image building rather than using media space for the benefit of the Polio Programme.

c) He has on numerous occasions issued irresponsible statements on matters purely technical nature without consulting with relevant technical experts. A recent example is a statement in a meeting chaired by chief minister Punjab declaring that henceforth children up to 10 years of age would be immunised against polio rather than up to five years.

The programme had to later withdraw announced measure and reverted to five years age limit as advised by technical experts which caused embarrassment to the government.

d) The incumbent is being the recent vilification campaign on social media that his damaging the polio programme’s repute resulted in anxiety and concern among the international donor community.

The non-paper added that the role of PM’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication was created during the period which no focal Ministry of Health at the federal level existed in aftermath of devolution under 18th Constitutional amendment and abolition of erstwhile Ministry of Health in 2011. However, after the creation of Federal Ministry of National Health Services, which is also the executing agency of the polio programme, there is no justification for the role of PM’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication.”