Pakistan News

Transplant mafia may thrive because of delay in Phota head posting

LAHORE: The appointment of a regular director general (DG) of the Punjab Human Organ Transplant Authority (Phota) could be a potential challenge for the caretaker Punjab chief minister as a “mafia” behind illegal organ transplant business, within and outside the authority, has been “hindering” the posting process of its new head for some months.

The top three candidates who have been shortlisted for the post from amongst 15 other senior medical teachers, who had applied for the slot, have been awaiting interviews for the last two months or so.

The candidates shortlisted on merit include former chairman of the Shaikh Zayed Hospital (SZH), Lahore, Prof Farid Ahmad Khan, former vice chancellor of the King Edward Medical University (KEMU) Prof Asad Aslam Khan and principal of the Allama Iqbal Medical College (AIMC) Prof Nadeem Hafeez Butt.

Prof Anwar was given additional charge of the post on Oct 11, 2022, by the then PML-Q/PTI government in Punjab.

An official says the previous governments have largely been running the authority on a look-after basis despite the fact that several networks involved in illegal organ transplant business have been operating across Punjab.

Some of these were unearthed by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) during the raids conducted in various cities of the province, particularly in Rawalpindi and Lahore.

However, the doctors and other people behind this unethical practice have managed to escape punishments, mainly due to the delay in appointment of the authority’s regular head.

The official regretted that the Phota had got a regular DG just for a few months only during the last five years or so.

The authority, which regulates all the organ transplants in Punjab, was established under an Act on Aug 25, 2012. Later, he says, KEMU retired VC (late) Prof Faisal Masood was posted as the first DG of the authority. However, after his sudden demise on Aug 16, 2019, this important institution was largely run by a medical officer.

Giving background of the issue, the official says that after the death of Prof Masood the health authorities advertised the post again in May 2021. After interviewing 13 candidates, three of them -- Services Hospital retired principal Prof Dr Mahmood Ayaz, retired Prof Dr Asad Aslam and Prof Dr Fareed Ahmad Khan -- were shortlisted and recommended to the then chief minister for appointment of one of them as regular DG of Phota.

Consequently, Prof Asad Aslam was appointed as second regular DG of Phota, the official says. However, Prof Aslam voluntarily resigned from the post on June 6, 2022, a few months after his posting, as he was more interested in teaching medical students and attending the patients.

After Prof Aslam’s resignation, Prof Dr Mahmood Ayyaz was posted as new DG of the authority for being on top of the list of the three shortlisted candidates for the slot. However, the official says, Prof Ayaz also resigned from the post on July 21, 2022.

Instead of appointing Prof Farid Ahmad Khan, who had successfully run the largest transplant programme at the Shaikh Zayed Hospital, Lahore, where nearly 140 liver and hundreds of renal transplants were carried out, as Phota DG, the health department advertised the slot, giving its additional charge to a junior professor of urology of the Services Hospital.

Meanwhile, the official source says, over 30 candidates applied for the advertised slot and the health authorities initially shortlisted 15 of them. In further scrutiny, three of them -- Prof Farid, Prof Asad Aslam and Prof Nadeem Hafeez Butt -- have been short listed and awaiting interview for some two months.

He adds that the Phota was awaiting a regular DG since then, amid reports of resurfacing of the illegal organ transplant networks in some parts of the province.

Punjab Health Secretary Dr Ahmed Javed Qazi says that interviews for the post of Phota administrator are to be conducted by the Monitoring Authority under the chairmanship of the provincial health minister.

He says the matter would be placed before the minister during this week and hopefully, the interviews would be conducted next week after seeking permission from the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2023

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