|February 19, 2020
Polio Eradication on UN Secretary Generalís Agenda During Pakistan Visit
Lahore, 18 February 2020 – The Secretary General of the United Nations (UNSG) Antonio Guterres today visited a kindergarten school in Lahore during the first nationwide polio campaign of the year and vaccinated 3 students with the polio vaccine. More than 39 million children across the country are set to be vaccinated during the February campaign.
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres commented on the polio eradication efforts of the country, saying that, “Polio is one of the few diseases we can eradicate in the world in the next few years. This is a priority of the United Nations and I am extremely happy to see it is a clear priority for the Government of Pakistan.”
“My appeal to all leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, is to fully support the Government of Pakistan and other governments around the world to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.”
As part of his visit, the UN Secretary General met with front line workers of the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program and expressed his deep solidarity. There are currently 265 000 front line workers who go door to door during campaigns to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated against polio. Almost 62% of these workers are female. Women are key to helping the program rally community members, parents and caregivers in support of polio eradication.
Dr Yasmin Rashid, the Health Minister for Punjab, welcomed the UN Secretary General to the kindergarten school. Dr Rashid briefed the UN mission on Pakistan’s progress in polio eradication, the remaining challenges being faced by the country, and strategies being currently implemented to interrupt virus transmission. She further praised the efforts of the United Nations in assisting Pakistan to achieve a polio-free status.
“The Government of Pakistan thanks the United Nations for their support and commitment to end Pakistan’s battle against polio. We are committed to working as “one team under one roof” and believe together, we can make Pakistan polio-free,” Dr Yasmin Rashid said.
In 2019, Pakistan was confronted with a resurgence of polio beyond traditional strongholds of the virus. Wild poliovirus cases increased from 12 in 2018 to 144 by the end of 2019. There are 17 cases thus far in 2020.
WHO Pakistan Representative Dr Palitha Malipala said the visit comes at a time when the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program is re-strategizing its operations and approaches to better respond to increased transmission of the virus, one of which includes incorporating high level commitment to polio eradication from across the political strata.
“Polio eradication remains a top priority for WHO and the global polio partnership. We will continue to support the Government of Pakistan, who spearhead this initiative in country, to overcome the challenges of the last year and put in place robust measures to ensure a polio-free world for future generations,” he said.
Aligning with other UN programs, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program is also committed to keeping its health workers safe, including by reiterating that health workers are never a target.
The Eastern Mediterranean Region is the only region in the world with wild polio virus transmission, with cases detected in Afghanistan as well as Pakistan. The concerted commitment to improving operations shown by both countries will be key to eradicating the virus and keeping the Region, and the world, safe from polio.
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