Polio eradication: United Nations kick-starts 2020 immunisation in Pakistan

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The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres says that: “Polio is one of the few diseases we can eradicate in the world in the next few years.

This is a priority of the United Nations and I am extremely happy to see it is a clear priority for the Government of Pakistan.”

He affirmed this statement during his visit to a kindergarten school in Lahore, Pakistan where the first nationwide polio campaign of the year kicked off.

He vaccinated 3 students with the polio vaccine while more than 39 million children across the country are set to be vaccinated during the February campaign.

The Secretary General commented on the polio eradication efforts of the country, saying that: “My appeal to all leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, is to fully support the Government of Pakistan and other governments around the world to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.”

As part of his visit, Guterres met with frontline workers of the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme and expressed his deep solidarity.

There are currently 265 000 frontline workers who go door to door during campaigns to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated against polio.

Almost 62% of these workers are female. Women are key to helping the programme rally community members, parents and caregivers in support of polio eradication.

Dr Yasmin Rashid, the Health Minister for Punjab, welcomed the United Nations Secretary General to the kindergarten school.

Dr Rashid briefed the UN mission on Pakistan’s progress in polio eradication, the remaining challenges being faced by the country, and strategies being currently implemented to interrupt virus transmission.

She further praised the efforts of the United Nations in assisting Pakistan to achieve a polio-free status.

“The Government of Pakistan thanks the United Nations for their support and commitment to end Pakistan’s battle against polio. We are committed to working as “one team under one roof “and believe together, we can make Pakistan polio-free.”

In 2019, Pakistan was confronted with a resurgence of polio beyond traditional strongholds of the virus.

Wild poliovirus cases increased from 12 in 2018 to 144 by the end of 2019. There are 17 cases thus far in 2020.

WHO Pakistan Representative Dr Palitha Malipala said the visit comes at a time when the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is re-strategizing its operations and approaches to better respond to increased transmission of the virus, one of which includes incorporating high level commitment to polio eradication from across the political strata.

“Polio eradication remains a top priority for W.H.O and the global polio partnership.

We will continue to support the Government of Pakistan, who spearhead this initiative in country, to overcome the challenges of the last year and put in place robust measures to ensure a polio-free world for future generations,” he stated.

Aligning with other UN programmes, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is also committed to keeping its health workers safe, including by reiterating that health workers are never a target.

The Eastern Mediterranean Region is the only region in the world with wild poliovirus transmission, with cases detected in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan.

The concerted commitment to improving operations shown by both countries will be the key to eradicating the virus and keeping the Region, and the world, safe from polio.