PESHAWAR, July 24: The United Nations Children’s Fund stopped releasing funds to the health department for anti-polio campaigns in the province, sources said.
They said that Unicef would now pay directly to the people, involved in the social mobilisation campaigns, and the hotels for holding seminars on polio.
“The decision was taken in the last meeting of the Polio Steering Committee last week wherein the officials of the health department, Unicef, World Health Organisations and other donor agencies participated,” officials said. They said that the decision to stop direct release of amount to the health department for polio campaign was result of a row between the Unicef and the Expanded Programme On Immunisation (EPI) over the purchase of publicity materials worth Rs3.3 million.
In April this year, health department ran a campaign erecting billboards with health minister’s pictures besides organising some talk shows on television channels to boost the campaign against polio.
“This angered the Unicef officials, who argued that the publicity campaign should revolve around children’s health. They alleged that health department’s publicity drive was an effort to promote ministers instead of child development,” officials added.
According to sources, both the EPI and Unicef stuck to their stances, with the latter accusing the former of sabotaging the campaign that took the matter to a point of no return. Ultimately the Unicef stopped salaries of about 20 district health support communication officers, who had been appointed by the health department with its financial assistance arguing that those officials had been appointed in violation of merit.
Interestingly, six of these officials were called for interviews wherein the representatives of Unicef reassessed their abilities and declared them all eligible for the posts.
“Why Unicef raised hue and cry over these appointments, made by health department? Later, all the officials were cleared and their performance was also declared satisfactory,” officials at the Health Secretariat said.
Again the Unicef objected to the publicity campaign and said that it was not going to pay the amount to the health department because the EPI had neither sought approval from it not from the secretary or director-general health.
To pay the amount spent on the publicity matter, the EPI stopped payment to the health workers involved in the field work and mobilisation campaign and started paying the fund meant for workers to the firm from which it had purchased publicity material.
The officials said that the head of EPI was at loggerheads with the Unicef as he enjoyed complete support of the health minister and a top health official. However, both the health minister and the official withdrew their support from the EPI head because he refused to pay fuel charges to the official’s wife, who was not an employee of the department and not authorised to utilise the funds meant for polio campaign.
“The EPI head paid Rs35,000 to the wife of the official once as fuel charges but refused to pay her the amount regularly, citing lack of funds as a reason, which irked the official, who left him alone,” officials said.
It is a mandate of Unicef to purchase publicity and other material and provide the same to the health department. “It is a technical agency, which is required to work with the government,” they added. According to them, both the Unicef and EPI were settling their own scores and were least concerned about child health.
None of the officials from the health department or Unicef were available for comments despite repeated attempts.