By Hamid Khan Wazir
WANA, Pakistan: At the time when the whole world grapples with the deadly Coronavirus and the medical practitioners are giving incentives, the employees of Expanded Program for Immunisation (EPI) project of the Health Department in South Waziristan tribal district are often seen on roads protesting against non-release of their salaries and non-regularisation of services.
In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Pakistan has had to suspend immunization for another dangerous contagion—poliovirus, risking the life of millions of children under the age of five as Pakistan in among the two countries including Afghanistan where the virus still exists.
Pakistan halted mass immunization on March 26 in a bid to check the spread of the Coronavirus.
The EPI employees staged protest demo in front of the Wana Press Club, where they were joined by activists of various political parties.
The protesters were holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans in favor of their demands.
The most prominent political figures who participated in the protest demo were the Awami National Party (ANP) provincial leaders Ayaz Wazir and Taj Wazir along with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Saifur Rehman.
The protestors said they were appointed under the contract policy of 2002 in 2004 and 2006; however, they were regularized despite the fact that the contractual employees of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Azad Kashmir have already been regularized.
Speaking on the occasion, the EPI President Ashfaq Wazir lamented that the EPI employees of tribal districts have been battling for their rights while the services of the employees were regularized elsewhere in the country.
He said that they were not giving salaries and their services were not being regularized which is a great injustice with the EPI employees of the trouble-hit tribal districts.
According to reports, a total of 55 polio cases have been reported in 2020 in Pakistan out of which Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) remained on the top where 20 cases were reported; however, despite such alarming situation, the EPI employees are being run from pillar to post for acceptance of their rights.
Ashfaq further said that the government was reluctant to regularize their services despite clear directives of the court.
He went on to say that owing to the indifferent attitude of the authorities concerned they left with no option but to boycott the routine polio vaccination.
The protesters were of the view that the government’s seriousness to uplift the health sector in the long-deprived tribal districts could be judged from the fact that they were being deprived of their salaries for the last eight months.
They ruled that they are passing great financial hardship due to the non-release of their salaries.
Speaking on the occasion, Taj Wazir, Ayaz Wazir, and Saifur Rehman said that it is really unfortunate that the EPI employees have been protesting for the last many days, but no action is being taken to address their issues.
They said that if the EPI employees boycotted the polio vaccination it could have dangerous consequences and the government would be responsible in this regard.
They demanded that the government should take steps on war-footing to iron out their long-delayed issues and not only instantly release their long-pending salaries but ensure their regularization forthwith.