PM Shehbaz, Bill Gates renew pledge to wipe out polio from Pakistan

Gates expresses confidence that Pakistan's polio eradication drive will get back on track to end crippling disease

By  Web Desk   |  
June 24, 2024
Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Bill Gates (left) and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif talk in a meeting at the PM's House on June 24, 2024. — PMO


As Pakistan remains in the grip of poliovirus despite the government's rigorous efforts towards eradication of the paralysing disease, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Bill Gates renewed the pledge to wipe it out of the country.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by poliovirus mainly affecting children under the age of five years, who are malnourished and have weak immunity because of being under-vaccinated or not vaccinated for polio and other childhood diseases.

The illness invades the nervous system and causes paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Pakistan is one of two remaining polio-endemic countries in the world, along with Afghanistan and the number of cases on a yearly basis has significantly dropped in the country.

The latest diagnosis was reported in Shikarpur on June 1, bringing the toll of polio cases in Pakistan this year to four.

In a meeting with PM Shehbaz Sharif in Islamabad on Monday, Gates expressed his confidence that with a sustained vaccination campaign and firm commitment of the Pakistani government, the polio eradication drive would get back on track to end the crippling disease following the recent surge in environmental detections.

He also underscored how Pakistan’s deployment of data science tools and digital technology are important resources to continue to improve the lives of the citizens across the country.

The visiting dignitary also thanked the premier, who received him at the Prime Minister’s House, for his continued dedication and personal interest in eradicating wild polio from the country.

Welcoming Gates, PM Shehbaz updated him about the government’s efforts to achieve economic stability and key advances in digital financial services, increased health coverage, climate change adaptation and efforts to eradicate poliovirus.

He deeply appreciated the Gates Foundation’s valuable support for the government’s initiatives to digitise the economy.

"A digitised eco-system of the entire government structure will result in enhanced revenues that will help improve governance and the government would be able to spend more on public welfare schemes," a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office quoted the premier as saying.

PM Shehbaz underlined that both the government and the Gates Foundation share many goals including closing the gender gap, increasing health coverage, improving food security, climate change adaptation, and financial inclusion.

Thanking the Gates Foundation for being the largest donor for the polio eradication programme, the premier outlined a robust and focused strategy to counter threats of increased wild poliovirus infections and the actions needed to overcome the challenge to completely wipe out the disease from Pakistan.

He reiterated the firm commitment to eradicating polio as it remains the highest priority for the government and emphasised that all resources of the state shall be employed to provide security to our polio workers.

"I will personally monitor national efforts until the crippling disease is wiped out from our soil," the PM said.

Both sides agreed to continue working together to not only eradicate polio, but to strengthen health systems across the provinces, and to ensure prosperity for all Pakistanis, especially women and girls.

The visit was undertaken at the invitation of the prime minister which he extended during his meeting with Gates in Riyadh on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.