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Monday July 15, 2024

Ensure all children immunised against polio, advises WHO official

“This strategy aims to strengthen overall public health capacity while achieving polio eradication”, said WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Dr Hanan Balkhy

By M Waqar Bhatti
May 08, 2024
A sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. — AFP/File
A sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva. — AFP/File

ISLAMABAD: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked Pakistan to further integrate polio eradication efforts with essential immunisation programmes.

“This strategy aims to strengthen overall public health capacity while achieving polio eradication”, said WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Director Dr Hanan Balkhy.

A delegation lead by Dr Balkhy is in Pakistan visiting Islamabad, Peshawar and Lahore. They held meetings with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Coordinator to PM on National Health Services Dr Malik Mukhtar Ahmad, chief ministers, chief secretaries and health ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.

The polio delegation assessed the progress, challenges and strategies employed by Pakistan’s polio eradication programme. Pakistan is one of the last two countries globally with endemic transmission of wild poliovirus.

They stressed the need to ensure all children are reached during vaccination campaigns, strengthen coordination with Afghanistan’s polio programme and intensify efforts to improve routine immunisation coverage. “While Pakistan has achieved significant epidemiological progress supported by a robust disease surveillance system, it is imperative to integrate polio eradication with essential immunisation programmes”, stated Dr Balkhy.

During her meeting with Dr Malik Mukhtar, Dr Balkhy highlighted Pakistan’s complex health landscape, noting recurrent disease outbreaks exacerbated by floods in Sindh and Balochistan. She also presented her new flagship initiatives aimed at ensuring equitable access to medicines, effective supply chain management, investment in the health workforce and tackling substance use.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Dr Balkhy learned about WHO’s initiatives to strengthen primary health care systems and advance universal health coverage. She addressed a training session on Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response systems in Peshawar and inaugurated Neonatal Intensive Care Centre, Nutrition Centre at District Headquarter Hospital in Haripur.

“More than 50pc of neonatal deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean Region are reported from Pakistan,” Dr Balkhy explained. The facilities in this centre will play important role in addressing gaps in neonatal care accessibility for children in the catchment community, she noted.

In Lahore, Dr Balkhy learned about health initiatives to boost immunisation rates in Punjab through mobile health clinics and digitised data management systems for microplanning and birth registrations.

Dr Balkhy also engaged with female vaccinators at the Civil Dispensary in Peshawar, acknowledging their crucial role in routine immunisation efforts. “Their motivation in the face of challenges was inspiring. Their role is more than just administering vaccines; they are educating mothers and caregivers, empowering them with critical health information”, Dr Balkhy remarked.

During discussions with UN Resident Coordinator in Islamabad, Dr Balkhy highlighted the challenging economic and fiscal situation in Pakistan, focusing on mutual areas of support to improve accessible health care and eradicate polio in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Dr Balkhy’s visit included a tour of Regional Reference Laboratory for Polio at National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Islamabad. At NIH, she learned about the critical disease surveillance support provided by WHO-accredited labs for poliovirus, rotavirus, measles, and rubella in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Discussions with Dr Muhammad Salman, CEO of NIH, underscored the importance of combating antimicrobial resistance.

In a meeting at WHO’s Country Office, Dr Balkhy donated health supplies to advance universal health coverage, expressing gratitude for WHO’s efforts in responding to emergencies, strengthening health infrastructure and providing crucial capacity-building support to Pakistan’s health workforce.

“WHO remains committed to supporting Pakistan’s national health vision, aiming for universal health coverage through equitable and sustainable services”, Dr Balkhy affirmed.