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Polio eradication on United Nations Secretary General’s agenda during Pakistan visit

Lahore, Feb 19 (UNI) The Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres visited a kindergarten school here on Tuesday during the first nationwide polio campaign of the year and vaccinated 3 students with the polio vaccine.
Mr. Guterres was welcomed by Dr Yasmin Rashid, the Health Minister for Punjab, at the kindergarten school.

More than 39 million children across the country are set to be vaccinated during the campaign in February.

Speaking about Pakistan's polio eradication programme the Secretary General said 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 of the Government of Pakistan.”

“My appeal to all political leaders, religious leaders and community leaders, is to fully support the Government of Pakistan and other governments around the world to make sure that weare able to fully eradicate polio.”

As part of his visit, the United Nations Secretary General met with frontline workers of the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme and expressed his support and solidarity with them.

There are currently 265 000 front line workers who go door to door during campaigns to ensure that maximum number of children are vaccinated against polio. Almost 62 per cent of these workers are
women. Women are the key to helping the programme rally community members, parents and caregivers in support of polio eradication.

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 stop the polio virus from spreading. 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 the traditional strongholds of the virus. Wild poliovirus cases increased from 12 in 2018 to 144 by the end of 2019. There have been 17 cases so far in 2020.

WHO Pakistan Representative Dr Palitha Malipala said the visit comes at a time when the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme 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 are spearheading this initiative in the country, to overcome the challenges of last year and put in place robust measures to ensure a polio-free world for future generations,” he said.

Aligning with other UN programmes, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme 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 poliovirus transmission, but its cases have been detected in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan.
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