Govt denies policy shift in national immunisation programme

The government has shifted the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), the secretariat of its universal vaccination programme that provides immunisation services free of cost to all children across the country, from the Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) to the National Institute of Health & Family Welfare (NIHFW.

This effectively disconnects the immunisation programme conducted by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, say reports.

The shifting of the NTAG from the Gates Foundation backed ITSU has been done in view of a conflict of interest of promoting the interest of multinational pharmaceuticals at the cost of domestic vaccine producers. say reports.

The Gates Foundation-funded Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) had so far served as the secretariat of the NTAGI, which is the country's apex immunisation advisory body and decides on vaccines that should become part of the government's immunisation programme.

However, under the present arrangement with the Gates Foundation, there could be a conflict of interest between the union health ministry and the Gates Foundation on funding and vaccine use.

The Universal Immunisation Programme of the ministry of health and family welfare (MoHFW) provides immunisation services free of cost to all children across the country as per its immunisation schedule.

The union ministry of health has now clarified that the transition of the secretariat of the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) to the National Institute of Health & Family Welfare (NIHFW) from the Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) is a planned operation and   has nothing to do with foreign funding.

NTAGI is the highest advisory body on immunisation in the country, which consists of independent experts who provide recommendations on vaccines after reviewing data on disease burden, efficacy and cost-effectiveness of vaccines, a government release stated.

The Immunisation Technical Support Unit (ITSU) was established to support MoHFW for evidence based planning, programme operations, monitoring and evaluation, strategic communication, cold chain and vaccine logistics management and support for adverse event following immunisation. One of the functions of ITSU was to host the NTAGI secretariat to facilitate the secretarial work of NTAGI, which includes coordination of its regular meetings.

In the last few years, many steps have been taken to strengthen NTAGI by providing a secretariat, establishing a code of practice and now  institutionalising it at the NIHFW. The transitioning of the NTAGI secretariat from ITSU to NIHFW was a planned activity and is part of the health system strengthening efforts by the government. This will have no adverse impact on its functioning, the release stated .

There is no financial link of NTAGI with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) or any other organisation as the body consists of independent experts.

As far as technical support by ITSU is concerned, it is functioning till 28 February 2017 and the project will continue to support the immunization program in techno-managerial capacity beyond this date. The contours of this support are being finalised with Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and BMGF.

''Some media reports have suggested that all health related collaboration with the Gates Foundation with National Health Mission (NHM) has been stopped. This is inaccurate and misleading. BMGF continues to collaborate and support the ministry of health and family welfare,'' it added.