WHO hails UAE's efforts to eradicate polio in Pakistan

World Health Organisation says UAE's role 'cannot be underestimated' as Pakistan cases start to decrease

A Pakistani health worker administers polio drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

A Pakistani health worker administers polio drops to a child during a polio vaccination campaign. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

The UAE's efforts to help eradicate polio in Pakistan "cannot be underestimated" and has played a significant role in the turnaround seen in the country since 2014, according to the World Health Organisation.

WHO said in a statement that in 2016, fewer children were paralysed by polio than in any other year globally, and in Pakistan.

Despite many challenges faced by the polio programme, Pakistan has made strides towards stopping transmission and in 2017 is the closest it has ever been to reaching that goal, it said.

"After many years the highly transmittable yet vaccine preventable virus is finding that there are very few places left to hide," the statement said, adding that the UAE's Pakistan Assistance Programme polio campaign phase 3 has reached more than 10.6 million children across Pakistan’s highest risk districts with the most vital health intervention for protection against polio.

"The generous contributions of the United Arab Emirates towards polio eradication in 2016 cannot be underestimated and has contributed significantly to the turnaround seen in Pakistan since 2014," the statement said.

Two years ago, Pakistan reported 306 wild poliovirus cases. Transmission was widespread across the country with all of the Federal Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many parts of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab reporting cases.

In less than 18 months, a reinvigorated programme has been able to first stem the tide of uncontrolled transmission and tackle the more chronic underlying challenges that have proven obstacles to virus interruption and eradication.

With the support of funds from the UAE, a series of immunisation campaigns has been launched in 66 high-risk districts across Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, FATA and Sindh.

“We are extremely grateful to the United Arab Emirates and the director of the Pakistan Assistance Programme, Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli, for the multi-year long commitment shown in ending polio in Pakistan. The generous and unwavering support the United Arab Emirates continues to show to Pakistan is making all the difference. Without it, the programme would be lacking what it needs to push to the end,” said Dr Michel Thieren, WHO representative to Pakistan.

The UAE has long played a pivotal role in supporting global eradication efforts. In 2013, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, announced a commitment of AED440 million ($120 million) in support of global efforts to put the world over the finish line for polio eradication, with a focus on Pakistan, one of the last endemic countries.

In 2016 the UAE contributed $18.4 million to the Polio Eradication Initiative in Pakistan through WHO to cover incentives to polio frontline workers, in addition to the associated operational costs during the supplementary immunization activities in 66 high-risk districts.

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