Sunday July 14, 2024

PM Shehbaz, Bill Gates vow to eradicate polio from Pakistan

Gates optimistic for polio eradication drive in Pakistan to 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 pose for a picture after meeting at the PMs House on June 24, 2024. — PMO
Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) Bill Gates (left) and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif pose for a picture after meeting at the PM's House on June 24, 2024. — PMO

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Bill Gates on Monday agreed to continue working together to eradicate polio from Pakistan, one of the two remaining polio-endemic countries, as it continues its struggle against the incurable illness. 

The highly infectious disease is 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 deaths. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from this crippling disease.

Besides Afghanistan, Pakistan is the second country that remains in the grip of polio; however, the number of cases on a yearly basis has significantly dropped due to government's rigorous efforts. 

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 detection.

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.