In its first action dissociating one of its programmes from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), the Health Ministry has decided to take away its role in the Mission Indradhanush vaccination campaign. The decision has been taken keeping in mind that till its problems with foreign funding are resolved, the PHFI cannot access money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) for the programme, and therefore cannot possibly discharge its role. It is the first sign that the PHFI’s troubles with the government may not end any time soon.
Earlier this week, the Health Ministry had written to the Union Home Ministry, asking it to expedite a decision on the PHFI given that there are many other ongoing programmes of the ministry with the foundation, and a call would have to be taken soon about their future. John Snow International, a not-for-profit public health management consulting and research organisation, will perform the PHFI’s functions in Mission Indradhanush. The Health Ministry has asked the BMGF to support John Snow instead of the PHFI and the BMGF has agreed to do so for an initial period of one year, after which the arrangement will be up for review, highly placed sources said.
A public-private partnership established with seed funding from the Union Ministry of Health, BMGF and corporate sector, the PHFI was debarred last month from receiving foreign contributions for alleged violation of FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) guidelines. Apart from the vaccination and tobacco control programmes — which were apparently part of the reason for the action against the PHFI — the foundation partners the government in its blindness prevention programmes, and is the secretariat for developing a framework for universal health coverage.
It is also one of the partners in an international adolescent health seminar to be held in India later this year. The adolescent health division in the ministry is unclear whether it is business as usual or whether the PHFI would need to be replaced with some other organisation. The Health Ministry sent its first official communication on the PHFI matter to Home after receiving a submission from the foundation. The Health Ministry asked that the PHFI’s case be speedily disposed of so that necessary provisions could be made for the smooth running of other programmes it is associated with.
“For now, the functions that the PHFI discharged for the vaccination programme, including housing the Immunisation Technical Support Unit, will be with John Snow International. It is a multilateral agency which will also help out with training and other technical issues and coordinate the monitoring of the vaccination programme. The BMGF will continue to fund the programme but since the PHFI cannot access those funds, this arrangement has been made,” a Health Ministry source said. With the BMGF’s support to the vaccination programme set to end in 2018, the ministry is also looking at alternative means of funding, the source added.