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- Friday, May 16, 2014 - From Print Edition



ISLAMABAD: World Health Organisation (WHO) has claimed that polio outbreak can be overcome in Pakistan within one year if the government ensures access of polio workers to the high risk areas in Fata, Karachi and Peshawar.


“We can overcome polio crisis within one year if the access of polio workers is ensured in all parts of Pakistan through security measures and awareness campaigns,” WHO Pakistan Polio chief Dr Elias Durry told The News on Thursday. He said the lack of access was the biggest obstacle in eradication of polio from Pakistan.


Last week, the WHO asked Pakistan to vaccinate all passengers going out of Pakistan to check the global spread of disease. The measure was recommended after evidence emerged that the South Asian country was the largest global source of polio infections.


The country has witnessed alarming increase in the number of polio cases in the country with 61 cases so far this year, compared to the total of 91 in 2013.Dr Elias Durry welcomed the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s resolve to use full force to ensure polio drops were administered to every child in Pakistan.


“If we can access all children in Fata, South Karachi and Peshawar, we can definitely eradicate polio from Pakistan,” he said.While asked does WHO accept the responsibility for failure of Pakistan in curbing polio outbreak being a major partner in implementing vaccination programme, Dr Elias said the global body worked as team member along with the government of Pakistan and other institution and the crisis was challenge for everybody.


However, he dispelled the impression that WHO was directly using all the findings allocated for polio eradication in Pakistan through a US$227 (Rs22.7 billion approx.) loan provided by Islamic Development Bank for the three years.“We are monitoring the disbursement of funds and responsible only for payment to polio teams while the procurement of vaccine is being done by Unicef,” he said.


WHO polio chief said there were two challenges regarding polio issue in Pakistan.“First, is WHO recommendation that require all travellers from Pakistan to have polio vaccination certificate. In this regard, we are 100 percent satisfied with the efforts of the government to open vaccination counter at various hospitals and at airports,” he said adding that second challenge was to curb the outbreak in high risk areas of Pakistan. “We need to work jointly as team to eliminate polio from Pakistan, through improved access and increased awareness. We need to remove religious and health misconceptions related to vaccine through involvement of civil society and religious leaders.” Dr Durry said.


Meanwhile, sources claimed that Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services Regulation and Coordination (NHSRC) was not happy with the current scenario where it was being blamed for failure in polio endeavour despite the fact that it was not in full control of polio programme.


Sources said Pakistan had taken US$227 million loan from IDB last year but the amount was being spent by WHO, UNICEF and Prime Minister’s polio cell instead of the Ministry.They said the said the government was planning to review the entire polio programme to ensure better coordination between the various agencies.


When contacted, the Minister of State for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar confirmed that a mechanism was being devised in consultation with national and international stakeholders to ensure better coordination in polio eradication efforts.


She said the government was working to improve access of polio workers to all areas including Waziristan, parts of Karachi and Peshawar where polio workers had been attacked and threatened by some elements.


While asked about WHO recommendation to provide polio vaccination certificates to all travellers leaving Pakistan, she said the ministry had requested a supplementary grant of Rs800 million from prime minister to ensure provision of vaccines to the passengers.