Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has reiterated that the government remains committed to ending all forms of polio in the country.
Polio is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that enters the central nervous system and damages cells in the spinal cord and brain. The disease can be fatal, and those who survive are often left paralysed or with atrophied and twisted limbs.
PM Shehbaz reiterated the commitment in a telephonic conversation with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) co-chair Bill Gates. The two discussed the ongoing public health and social sector programmes supported by BMGF in Pakistan, the PM Office said.
Polio most often affects children under the age of five but can hit anyone who is not vaccinated.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries where the wild poliovirus remains endemic, though Malawi and Mozambique also detected imported wild polio cases in 2022.
While expressing concern over the new cases reported in 2022 after one year without any polio case, the prime minister noted that there had been a pause in polio cases since September 2022.
In light of the recent flooding which had adversely affected the ongoing polio vaccination efforts due to large-scale displacements and destruction of healthcare infrastructure, the prime minister reaffirmed that the government was actively implementing the special emergency response plan and would continue to adapt and find ways to reach out to children in these challenging times.
He also appreciated the valuable support extended by the BMGF to Pakistan in polio eradication and improving immunisation, nutrition and financial inclusion in the country.
The prime minister reaffirmed Pakistan’s desire to further strengthen the fruitful partnership with the Foundation in all the ongoing areas of cooperation.
Gates deeply regretted the loss of lives in the recent flooding in Pakistan.
He also acknowledged Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio and reiterated his Foundation’s continued support to Pakistan for ensuring that no child was at risk of paralysis due to poliovirus.
Various other government-led programmes supported by the BMGF aimed at addressing malnutrition and stunting, essential immunisation services, micropayment gateway RAAST, and digitization of the National Savings Programme were also discussed.
The prime minister and Gates agreed to continue working together on the shared objectives and in the areas of mutual cooperation.
In October, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to invest $1.2 billion towards wiping out polio as health experts from around the world gathered for a summit in Berlin.
"Polio eradication is within reach. But as far as we have come, the disease remains a threat," Bill Gates said in a statement released on the occasion.
The sum had to be donated to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), a public-private partnership led by national governments that aims to end the disease by 2026.
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