ISLAMABAD: Cricketing superstar Shahid Afridi and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime now has a new title to add to his many cricketing achievements: Polio champion.
Afridi joined representatives of the national polio eradication initiative Saturday at a ceremony titled ”Unveiling the Polio Celebrity Champion” organized by the Prime Minister’s Monitoring and Coordination Cell for Polio Eradication, Rotary International, UNICEF and WHO here at a local hotel to announce his commitment to help ensure that no child is left unvaccinated and no child is paralyzed by polio in Pakistan again.
Known for his aggressive batting style, the former Pakistan international captain now hopes to use that same all or nothing approach in the fight against polio.
“It is an honour for me to donate my time to help to rid Pakistan of polio,” said Afridi. “I can deliver the message that reaching every child, every time with the polio vaccine is not only necessary, but it is our duty.”
Afridi hails from the Khyber Agency in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and is from a Pashtun family. In 2011, Pashtuns accounted for nearly 77 per cent of all polio cases, but the group makes up only 15 per cent of the population.
“We couldn’t be more delighted to have Afridi join the polio eradication team in Pakistan,” said the Focal Point for the Prime Minister’s Monitoring Cell, Mme Shahnaz Wazir Ali. “He is a true Pakistani hero and will help us deliver important messages to some of the hardest to reach areas of the country.”
In part, these messages will be delivered through a nationwide mass media campaign featuring the cricket star, including radio and television spots, billboards and posters. The campaign to be launched on July 9 will support the next National Immunization Days from July 16-18, 2012 when over 34 million children under-five will be vaccinated.
National Chair for Rotary Polio Plus Aziz Memon brokered the deal, personally requesting Mr Afridi to accept the role as Polio Champion. In this role Afridi agreed to support the polio campaign, generously giving his time for free and using his popularity and personal dedication to the children of Pakistan to speak for polio eradication both on the national as well as the international stage.
“Pakistan is making real progress toward eradication,” said Memon. “And we have seen the support that celebrities of this stature can bring to national awareness efforts in other countries, and we have no doubt that Afridi will boost interest in the campaign and in ensuring every child in Pakistan is vaccinated.”
In the first six months of 2012, Pakistan had 22 confirmed polio cases in 13 districts – down from 58 in 24 districts during the same period in 2011. (PPI)