World Polio Day being observed around the world today including Pakistan is a reminder to the potency of danger posed by polio to the health of our children. The day serves as a clarion call to further gear up our efforts and pool our resources to fight this scourge with unflinching determination and steel-like resolve.
As we review the progress made so far in terms of banishing polio from our midst, the day also affords an opportunity to acknowledge the services of those playing an active role in making anti-polio campaigns a success.
Polio is a deadly disease, which has the potential of crippling our children. It is regrettable that Pakistan is one of few countries where polio still exists and threatens our children. We cannot and will not allow this disease to play havoc with the future of our children.
Eradicating polio from Pakistan is a national goal as well as a mission for the government of Pakistan. It is my belief that no challenge can overpower a noble ambition that has a resolute political commitment behind it.
The passion to make Pakistan a polio-free country has its roots in the very ideals espoused by Shaheed Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto. She launched the anti-polio drive for the first time during her stay in office in 1994 by administering polio drops to her daughter Aseefa Bhutto Zardari who, as the Ambassador for Polio Eradication nominated by the UNICEF, has been at the forefront of our national anti-polio campaigns.
Our fight against polio is characterized by National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP), which has been developed in consultation with all stakeholders including provincial governments and international partners. NEAP is premised on three pillars namely greater ownership, oversight, and accountability. Strong political commitment by the top federal and provincial leadership is a key element of this strategy.
Reaching the children in the security threatened regions of the country particularly in FATA is a key challenge, which has hampered the government’s efforts to eradicate polio from the country. In order to tackle this challenge, the government has focused on increasing civil-military coordination and designing anti-polio campaigns in the light of local conditions. Special polio points have been established on agency borders to make sure that each child moving in and out of FATA is immunized. The government has also engaged local religious scholars, teachers and parliamentarians to effectively communicate anti-polio message to the local communities there.
As a result of these measures of the government, there has been a significant improvement in the situation and far fewer cases have been reported this year compared to last year. I am happy to mention that compared with 58 cases in 24 districts in the first six months of 2011, there are 22 cases from 13 districts during the same period of 2012. This can give you an idea of progress we have made so far.
The Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative acknowledged in its report in June 2012 that Pakistan had improved its performance vis-à-vis polio. Likewise, previously, 42 percent districts reported 95% coverage. As a result of the government’s efforts, the coverage has increased to 80 percent districts, which represents a giant step forward in our fight against polio.
I would also take this opportunity to appreciate our global partners and acknowledge their vital cooperation in combating polio. I want to assure the world community that Pakistan is committed to defeating polio at every cost. We look forward to strengthening our partnership with international organizations to further bolster our anti-polio efforts.
On the occasion of World Polio Day, let us pledge to make Pakistan a polio free country. Our children are our future and we cannot allow polio to cripple our future. Let us pledge that despite recent successes, we will not rest unless the last of our children is immunized against this deadly disease. A polio-free Pakistanis our cherished goal towards which our efforts are directed.