Inertia at Pakistan's NIH threatening vaccine programs

Recruiting for vacant senior positions is a balancing act between identifying the ideal person and hiring quickly to avoid a power vacuum. Pakistan's National Institute of Health (NIH) seems to be struggling to find this balance. Its search for an executive director is now in its fifth year.

The News reports that the job of executive director--and 17 other key roles--has been vacant for the past 5 years. Dr. Birgees Mazhar Qazi was named temporary executive director in 2008, and still holds the position today despite being disqualified from actually holding the position. Qazi works for the NIH and as such regulations prohibit him from being executive director. The combination of a lack of senior staff--such as scientific officers--and limited funds have held back Pakistan's vaccine program.

Production of vaccines for measles, rabies and snake bites has reportedly suffered. Officials at the Pakistani NIH admitted that a delay in grants from the government has slowed activity, and the introduction of new rabies vaccine technology is being held back by an inability to purchase the equipment. Despite these shortcomings, Dr. Farnaz Malik--who is overseeing the NIH--was unaware of any shortages of rabies or snake bite vaccines. Efforts to improve the situation are restricted by the staff shortages, which Malik attributed to a government-enforced hiring freeze.

The World Health Organization estimates of childhood vaccination rates in Pakistan range from 75% to 88%, although it has doubts about the reliability of the data. Official figures claim immunization rates top 90%, but WHO questions the accuracy of these figures. Any attempt to raise the rates of vaccination are hindered by reported stagnation at NIH and instability in the rest of the country. The effects of this instability were felt this week when a policeman guarding a polio vaccination team was killed in northwestern Pakistan. Islamic militants had opposed the vaccine campaign, but sentiment seemed to shift last week when the Taliban spoke in favor of immunizing against polio in Afghanistan. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, the Wall Street Journal reports.

- here's the News article
- check out the WSJ piece

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