Nawaz Sharif meets Bill Gates to discuss polio eradication in Pakistan


Senior Member
Dec 25, 2013
MEETING Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly anniversary functions, Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates said that it is possible for Pakistan to eradicate polio by the end of this year.

It is not clear whether this was an expression of hope, or a statement of confidence — largely because regardless of how much help is proffered by international forums, from UN subsidiaries to others including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it is Pakistan, and Pakistan alone, that is the architect of its own future on this front.

The country has indeed seen some success in recent months. As the prime minister informed Mr Gates, this year has seen far fewer reported new cases emerge — less than 40 so far — as compared to nearly 400 over 2014.

Murderous attacks on polio workers too have lessened; many of them now work under armed protection. And it has been possible to vaccinate hitherto unvaccinated children, especially those from the northwest of the country. Even so, daunting challenges face Pakistan as it attempts to contribute to the international push for global polio eradication.

Consider, for example, the administration of the vaccine to children from Fata and other inaccessible areas.

This was only possible because of the mass-scale exodus from the area as a result of the army operation against militancy, which forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes and head towards major cities such as Peshawar and Karachi; inoculation at check points along the way was made mandatory, hence the uptick in the numbers of vaccinated children.

Consider also the implications of the fact that while the efforts of the Expanded Programme for Immunisation do have an impact, routine immunisation rates, amongst even middle-class sections, have taken a downturn in recent years. Yet, the efforts must continue — and succeed — because a cold reality stares us in the face. This is one of the world’s last two countries that remain polio-endemic. Pakistan and Afghanistan stand to bring the world’s efforts to naught.

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