Thursday Feb 17, 2022
ISLAMABAD: Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates Thursday appreciated Pakistan's polio-eradication campaign during his maiden trip to the country.
Gates, who is visiting Pakistan for a day, landed early morning and held meetings with senior government officials, including a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan, a statement from the PM Office said.
The philanthropist attended a meeting of the National Task Force on Polio Eradication, where he noted that despite COVID-19 restrictions, Pakistan has performed "amazingly" in eradicating polio.
Gates thanked the prime minister for inviting him and extending warm hospitality on his first-ever visit. He appreciated the efforts of the Pakistani leadership, health workers, and parents for working tirelessly to ensure polio never paralyses a child again.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, Governor Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shah Farman, Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar, Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Mehmood Khan, Prime Minister AJ&K Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan Niazi, Chief Minister Gilgit Baltistan Khalid Khurshid, provincial health ministers Azra Fazal Pechuho and Ehsan Shah, representatives of international organisations, and senior officers attended the meeting, while deputy commissioners from across Pakistan joined via video link.
During the meeting, the prime minister thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its continued support and partnership with the Government of Pakistan for the eradication of the poliovirus.
The prime minister underlined that the government is fully committed and determined to eliminate this debilitating disease from the country.
PM Imran Khan asserted that Afghanistan, being the primary source of polio incidence in Pakistan's two bordering provinces, requires urgent international support to avert the humanitarian crisis.
"Pakistan is providing full support to 40 million Afghan people in need of basic amenities," the prime minister informed the philanthropist.
During the meeting, the prime minister also directed deputy commissioners of the districts adjoining Afghanistan borders, particularly the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to remain vigilant and proactive against the spread of the poliovirus.
The task force paid tributes to the 36 frontline workers and 14 law enforcement personnel who lost their lives while administering the polio vaccine to children across the country, the statement from the PM Office said.
Earlier, the task force was briefed that Pakistan has completed one year of zero polio incidence.
However, the virus has been detected in environmental samples in the southern districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan province.
The meeting was apprised that national-level polio vaccination campaigns had been launched on December 2021 and January 2022 with the integration of routine immunisations for children, the statement said.
"There is effective coordination among federal and provincial governments with support from law enforcement agencies for [the] provision of security in risk areas," the statement said.
The PM Office said provincial governments apprised the meeting about resources allocated towards the polio campaign and expressed full commitment towards making Pakistan polio-free.
Meanwhile, the NCOC issued a statement saying that Gates, along with his delegation, visited the forum's headquarters in Islamabad and attended its morning session. On the occasion, the philanthropist met NCOC chief and federal minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives Asad Umar and SAPM Dr Faisal Sultan.
During the NCOC session, Gates and his delegation were apprised about the NCOC's role and methodology, its achievements since the start of the pandemic, the recent COVID-19 situation across Pakistan and various restrictions imposed by the forums to control disease spread and ensure public safety and well being.
A comprehensive review of Pakistan’s efforts against COVID-19, along with a briefing on genome sequencing (prevalence of various variants in the country), was presented to the visiting dignitaries.
"Mr Gates took a keen interest in various initiatives of the NCOC, particularly smart lockdown, micro smart lockdown strategy enforcement measures, Pakistan’s vaccine administration regime which enabled the forum to formulate and implement a comprehensive coronavirus response," the statement read.
Moreover, Umar acknowledged the efforts of the philanthropist and his foundation to support COVID-19 initiatives in Pakistan, while the former appreciated Pakistan’s success in the fight against the pandemic despite resource constraints.
Gates also lauded Pakistan for introducing "excellent initiatives and measures for public health safety."
Meanwhile, sources said that Gates would also visit the COVID-19 treatment facility in Chak Shahzad before he leaves Pakistan the same evening.
Later in the day, President Dr Arif Alvi conferred Hilal-e-Pakistan — the second-highest civil award in the country —upon Gates in recognition of his meritorious services for the people of Pakistan, particularly for the eradication of polio.
The award was given at a special investiture ceremony held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr, attended by Begum Samina Alvi, federal ministers and senior officials.
The Foundation is playing a critical role in the elimination of polio in Pakistan as well as supporting the financial system through various interventions.
It focuses on eliminating global inequities and increasing opportunities for those in need through programs addressing global agricultural and economic development, medical research and public health initiatives in developing countries.
The co-chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also visited the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) in Islamabad during his visit to Pakistan, a statement from NEOC said.
Gates visited Operations Room and the 1166 Helpline; he was also briefed on the successes and the challenges of the polio eradication programme in the country.
Special advisor to the Prime Minister on Health Dr Faisal Sultan, Secretary of the Ministry of Health Amir Ashraf Khawaja, Coordinator NEOC Dr Shahzad Baig, and Deputy Coordinator and National Programme Manager EPI Dr Akram Shah, accompanied him during the visit.
Gates expressed satisfaction with the quality and impact of the programme and reaffirmed his continued commitment to the fight against polio.
“Pakistan has made considerable progress and to achieve desirable results it is pertinent to continue with the strategic and targeted approach in the coming months,” he said.
SAPM Dr Sultan highlighted the contributions of the federal and provincial governments, polio staff, and frontline health care workers for reaching eligible children during the routine vaccination campaigns in the country.
“We are focused on building the capacity of district government-led teams, especially in high-risk areas of south KP to provide leadership in identifying challenges, design, and implement corrective actions to reach the goal of polio-free Pakistan,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Baig, while providing a detailed programme overview, acknowledged the significant support of the government for the polio eradication efforts.
"All polio activities have been sustained under the government management and oversight at every level, with the full commitment of the prime minister and chief ministers," Dr Baig said.
The programme continues to focus on designing high-quality case response campaigns to review and modify interventions to reach children who have been repeatedly missed and need to receive the vaccine to build immunity, he explained.
Dr Shahzad also mentioned the significant impact of recent synergies between the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) and Polio Eradication Programme (PEI) during routine vaccination campaigns. While highlighting the current challenges of virus circulation in border areas, he shared that the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme continues to work closely with Afghanistan to stop poliovirus transmission across shared corridors and works to halt transmission amongst highly mobile population groups.
During the meeting, Bill Gates presented shields to the provincial coordinators to acknowledge their dedication and commitment to the polio eradication efforts in Pakistan, the statement said.