ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has wasted $3.7 million worth of vaccines donated to protect children from deadly diseases because officials failed to store them properly, a senior health official told Reuters on Monday.
The scandal is the latest problem to be exposed in Pakistan’s poorly run public health services.
“We have suspended the officials concerned and are conducting an inquiry,” Saira Afzal Tarar, minister of state for national health services, told Reuters.
The ruined vaccines were pentavalent vaccines, which combine different vaccines in one injection and are supposed to protect children against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and a bacteria that causes meningitis and pneumonia.
It must be stored at cold temperatures to remain effective but Pakistan’s power sector is chronically mismanaged and the country suffers several hours of power cuts a day.
Officials said the vaccines were exposed to fluctuating temperatures, possibly because of faulty generators.
“There may have been issue with the generators, but the facts will become clear after the inquiry,” said Dr Saqlain Ahmad Gilani, the national program manager at the Expanded Program on Immunization.
He said 1.3 million doses of vaccine worth $3.7 million had been wasted. They had been donated by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
UNICEF says one in 10 Pakistani children does not survive their fifth birthday. The majority of deaths are due to easily treatable diseases.
Last year, an international agency branded the government’s management of a national polio campaign “disastrous”.
Doctors also say patients are regularly exposed to infected blood as authorities fail to monitor blood banks.
Editing by Katharine Houreld, Robert Birsel