- Federal government to save the day as Punjab government fails to handle measles
- Punjab Health Department unaware of the development
- International agencies laud centre’s decision to consolidate responsibilities
The negligence of the Punjab Health Department in coping with the deadly measles epidemic has led the federal government to come into action and “consolidate” health functions at the federal level, Pakistan Today has learnt.
The move has become a comment on the ability of the provinces to cope with such disasters on their own after the devolution of the provinces under the 18th Amendment. The rising number of measles’ deaths in the provincial metropolitan despite a province-wide immunisation campaign undertaken by the Health Department has shown how the department has lacked on various fronts in fulfilling an obligation: to save lives.
There are also allegations that the majority of workforce hired for the immunisation campaign is untrained, something the health authorities have been denying constantly.
The prime minister has taken serious note of the measles outbreak in the country. As part of the measures to take emergency remedial action, a decision has been taken to consolidate health functions at federal level since existing fragmentation was causing problems with federal-provincial coordination.
The prime minister has also approved renaming of the Division of National Services and Regulations as the “Health Services, Coordination and Regulation Division” and has authorised reallocation of administrative responsibilities of several health-related institutions under it. These responsibilities were previously fragmented among nine institutional entities and had resulted in lack of coordination at the federal level, undermining of constitutional federal (national) roles, interagency turf tensions over mandate and no clear responsibility in international health.
Even the international agencies have widely hailed this decision. World Health Organisation (WHO) Eastern Mediterranean Region Regional Director Ala Alwan has said, “We applaud the decision of the government of Pakistan to consolidate federal responsibilities in the health sector by reducing the fragmentations of the health functions at the federal level. This is in line with the recommendations of the multi-partners mission led by the WHO in September 2013. This decision is much needed to provide a coherent, health-focused authority that can effectively exercise the functions that remain at the Federal Legislative List as well as to provide one coordinating center to respond to needs of the provinces and development partners.”
Sania Nishtar, the federal government’s focal point on health, said, “The health architecture at the federal level was fragmented across eight divisions. There was complete disruption of health information and disconnect between evidence and policy. After the measles outbreak it became clear that something needed to be done; which is why a caretaker government had to intervene in this area.”
The Law Ministry has stated that the decision is strictly under the constitutional stipulations.
The Punjab Health Department however seemed unaware of the development.
Additional Secretary (Technical) Dr Anwer Janjua said he was not aware of the development. He further said, “There are certain things which have to be coordinated with the federal government, such as the subject of aid collection, PMDC and medical education, drugs and cross border epidemics.”
To a question, he said measles deaths were occurring in the hospitals because parents brought their children very late to the health facility otherwise the health department was already on its heels to cope with it.