Prime Minister Imran Khan directed on Wednesday federal and provincial government officials to undertake effective awareness and immunisation campaigns against polio so that the disease can be eradicated.
PM Khan also expressed “serious concern” over the recent spike in the number of polio cases in the country. The government has decided to get the Pakistan Army’s help to achieve the immunisation targets. Representatives of the army assured full support to the polio teams in their efforts to reach out to children in far-flung areas of the country.
Babar Bin Atta, the PM’s focal person on polio, briefed the meeting on a report by the International Monitoring Board for 2017-18 which identifies the loopholes in the strategy employed previously, as a result of the number of polio cases spiked, especially in Bannu.
Atta proposed a strategy and endorsed both the idea of the polio programme partnering with Ehsaas for synergised implementation as well as the six-month (November-April 2019) campaign.
The strategy is based on four pillars — from push to pull, from disease control to virus eradication, from an ‘orphan programme’ to 100% government ownership at the highest level and complete accountability at the operational level.
Atta said the key initiatives will include engagement with social media platforms to counter anti-vaccine propaganda, the involvement of mainstream media for public awareness campaigns, the establishment of 24/7 call centres, and publicising of environment or human cases. He said four national and two sub-national immunisation campaigns will be conducted between November and April 2019.
Representatives of international partners and donors also assured the government of their continued cooperation in polio eradication mission. Dr Tim Peterson, the deputy director of polio at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also presented a letter of appreciation from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to the prime minister for efforts being made to eliminate the crippling disease.
The premier had summoned an emergency meeting of all polio stakeholders on Wednesday to discuss the situation and formulate a strategy for the future.
The meeting was attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, Atta, Pakistan Army Engineer-in-Chief Lt Gen Moazzam Ejaz, High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan Wendy Gilmore, the federal health secretary, chief secretaries of Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan, representatives from Unicef, WHO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other senior officials.
This year, 53 cases of polio have been reported in the country so far, according to End Polio Pakistan. Four cases were reported in Balochistan, nine in the merged tribal districts, 32 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three in Sindh, and five in Punjab.