President of Pakistan kicks off emergency plan to stop polio

The only polio-endemic country where case numbers rose in the past year, Pakistan has developed a national emergency action plan that outlines area-specific strategies and accountability mechanisms.

President Zardari gives polio vaccine to a child at the launch of a national emergency plan to get the country back on track for polio eradication. WHO Pakistan

On 24 January, the President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari formally launched an emergency response to the explosive outbreak of polio in Pakistan. The only polio-endemic country with an increase in cases in 2010, Pakistan has struggled in the past six months to keep a lid on transmission of poliovirus. The number of children paralyzed by the virus jumped by 60% (from 89 in 2009 to 144 in 2010, as of 25 January 2011).

Giving polio vaccine to children present, in advance of the first national polio vaccination campaign of the year, President Zardari called it “criminal negligence” not to eradicate polio. He cautioned that the rise in cases called for urgent and concerted action and noted the presence at the ceremony of Federal Ministers, the Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Social Sector, Provincial Ministers and Secretaries of Health, parliamentarians, members of the diplomatic community and heads of international developmental partners and civil society organizations. “I assure you”, he added, “that there will be strict oversight of the plan at the national and provincial levels through monitoring cells.”

The president said Pakistan is “committed to banish polio from Pakistan,” reminding the audience that polio eradication efforts in Pakistan were first launched by the government of his deceased wife Benazir Bhutto. He said she was the first prime minister to have personally administered polio drops, to a Pakistani child: “That child was no less than our own daughter, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari.” Ms Zardari is now Pakistan’s Ambassador for Polio Eradication. “Together she will work with you to end polio. Together we will end polio from the country,” the President said.

The president said the comprehensive plan for polio eradication, prepared by health managers and professionals, was clear and actionable.

Mr Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sent a special video message to the gathering. Mr Gates had met President Zardari in Washington DC on 15 January, where they had discussed in detail the emergency plan and its implementation.

The Secretary Health highlighted salient features of the Emergency Plan with emphasis on ownership and accountability of the administrative arms of the government.

The President also announced awards for Mr Bob Scott, Chairman of the Rotary International Polio Plus Committee and Mr Aziz Memon, Chairman of the National Polio Plus Committee for their services to polio eradication in Pakistan.

Written statement and video address from Mr Bill Gates on the occasion of the launch of the emergency plan.

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