Friday Nov 08, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan's former focal person on polio has refuted an international media outlet's recent report on an alleged "cover-up over fresh polio outbreak" in Pakistan, terming it to be "absolutely baseless".
Babar Bin Atta, the PM's former focal person on polio eradication and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), tweeted on Friday that the Guardian's report was absolutely baseless and that he was "writing to them to correct the record & issue an apology, failing which, I shall pursue my legal options".
Atta added: "I shall be sending relevant documents to @guardian to prove their "He Said - She Said" report wrong. Enough of this slander."
Prior to that, he had tweeted a quick response to the report, mentioning first how the "reporter is based in Delhi" and that she "did not contact me even once".
In response to a tweet to him, he said "noone [sic] from Guardian approached me even for an iota of a comment".
The PM's special assistant on national health services regulations and coordination, Dr Zafar Hussain Mirza, also spoke in favour of Atta, noting that there had been "absolutely no coverup".
"Such outbreaks are being reported from countries even after Polio eradication e.g. Nigeria, China, Indonesia, Congo," he wrote, adding a statement issued November 7 by the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme.
The statement noted that the programme "detected transmission of Sabin-Like Type 2 Derived (SLT2D) poliovirus through its disease surveillance system" and that "the virus has caused seven cases of paralysis in recent months, mainly in the Northern parts of the country".
British publication, The Guardian, had claimed in its latest report that "officials in Pakistan have been accused of covering up an outbreak of the most dangerous strain of polio and planning a covert vaccination programme to contain the disease".
Also read: 'The anti-polio campaign is not suspended'
The UK media outlet had reported that at least "a dozen children have been infected with the P2 strain of polio, which causes paralysis and primarily effects those under five".
According to The Guardian, "the new cases were allegedly kept hidden from the government and from international donors […] under direct instruction from Babar Bin Atta".
Atta had been forced to step down after being accused of corruption.
The outlet, citing its source within the programme, noted that "the renewed outbreak of the P2 strand came from a mismanagement of vaccines, which carry a live strain of the disease to create immunity".
It add that it seemed the "P2 vaccine was administered accidentally and a child became a carrier for the disease. Tests on the new cases allegedly show the children are all carrying a vaccine-derived form of the disease".
While The Guardian appeared not to have included a comment from Atta himself, it did have one from Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq — Atta's predecessor and a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — who said her successor had “ruined” the programme.
She also accused PM Imran "of refusing to listen to complaints against Bin Atta for the past 10 months", according to the outlet. She said he "ignored the complaints which were coming to him against Babar Bin Atta” and that the polio programme officials "covered up the refusals and they allegedly used fake markers on kids’ to show they were vaccinated who actually were not".