‘Rebuff’ by Unicef: Clerics stop support to vaccination

Unicef
‘Rebuff’ by Unicef

PESHAWAR: Clerics in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and adjoining tribal areas have refused to continue supporting the immunisation campaigns sponsored by United Nations Children’s Fund in their respective areas, saying a Unicef official have discredited them.

Prayer leaders and teachers in seminaries have been helping NGO National Research and Development Foundation and Unicef reduce the numbers of the people refusing to get their children vaccinated against polio since November 2009.On Thursday, NRDF wrote a letter to Unicef expressing displeasure over one of its officials bringing ulema into disrepute by claiming they’re paid for immunisation support and cooperation, though they work on voluntary basis.

It also complained of lack of cooperation and stoppage of funds by Unicef from April 2012 despite the fact that the ‘Programme Cooperation Agreement’ between the two was valid until December 31, 2012.The letter issued by NRDF chief coordinator Tahseenullah Khan also cited some other problems created by Unicef, saying it was not possible to continue working with the Fund under current circumstances.

“We want to formally quit its organisational activities related to Polio Eradication and expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) under the current Project Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Unicef until remedial organisational measures are taken to rebuild the lost confidence of our field workers and resume meaningful activities,” it said.

“We further communicate that in this situation the organisational support of NRDF for vaccination activities under the current project to the Unicef PCA will be available to 30th September 2012,” it said. However, it will be subject to provision of funds by Unicef for the clearance of pending unpaid huge expenditure incurred by NRDF as well as to bear the project related expenses during the notice period, it said.

Many religious scholars, who have been working with NRDF, told Dawn that Unicef had been discrediting them.“We have been working with Unicef on voluntary basis and had brought down refusals to 840 from 26000 in Peshawar during the past one year,” said Maulana Jehanzeb.He said a senior Peshawar-based UNICEF official gave a presentation to district coordination officer in April in which he said the Unicef was paying money to religious leaders for anti-immunisation support and cooperation.”It is a mark of utmost disrespect for ulema,” he said.

“Wherever the Unicef official goes, he tells the people that they have hired the services of ulema”, said another scholar Maulana Rasool Jan, who said they had brought down the number of polio refusal cases from 6,000 to zero in FR Peshawar.“Unicef should respect us for our role in improving immunisation but it is doing exactly the opposite,” he said, adding that majority of 7,000 ulema had communicated to NRDF that they were not willing to support immunisation, especially polio,which prompted NRDF to quit the project.Tahseenullah Khan told Dawn that a senior Unicef official was bringing ulema working purely on voluntary basis into disrepute.

“I was under tremendous pressure to dissociate my organisation from Unicef. I have written a letter to end the project because we cannot tolerate the disrespect of ulema at the hands of Unicef,” he said.He said NRDF with the financial support of the Unicef had been supporting the mobilisation campaign about vaccination in two districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and as many agencies of Fata since November 2009. He said given the success of the intervention, the project was enhanced to seven more KP districts after six months. After passage of another six month, Unicef extended the programme and the NRDF was tasked to work in 31 districts and agencies in Nov 2010.

“We had Rs110 million for 15 month project ending December 2012. We had one coordinator to whom we paid Rs 25000 as salary and a similar amount as fuel charges”, he said. In each district, we spent Rs4,000 on ulema for organising their trips to the refusal families and tea and meals etc, he said.

“The Unicef’s allegation that ulema are being paid for vaccination support is misguiding. We would not resume work until stoppage of the disrespect of ulema and apology from the relevant official,” he said. Maulana Farooq in North Waziristan said ulema wouldn’t support the anti-vaccination propaganda even after quitting the project, but wanted Unicef to prevent its official from issuing statements against religious leaders.

“Polio campaign will suffer because ulema’s dissociation would create doubts in the minds of the people,” he said.When contacted, Unicef communication specialist (polio), Pakistan Michael Coleman said the Fund continued to have a ‘Programme Cooperation Agreement’ with NRDF for polio eradication. He said polio eradication was a top priority of the government of Pakistan and its partners, including Unicef. – Dawn