Islamabad, 20 March 2023 (TDI): French Development Agency (AFD) joined the group of organizations committed to ending polio by agreeing to fund the Government of Pakistan’s efforts to do so.

Meeting the Special Health Secretary and touring the National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) for Polio Eradication were among the activities of the delegation from the AFD and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The delegation visited Pakistan for a week and attended discussions to support the nation in the areas of health and social protection.

The Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) received commitments from the AFD to support it in immunization efforts, disease surveillance, polio campaign monitoring, and other technical areas, as well as to cover the $55 million budget shortfall (under the PC-1 for polio eradication, 2022-2026).

Dr. Shahzad Baig, the NEOC Coordinator, underlined the importance of the polio infrastructure to Pakistan’s healthcare system.

“We are very grateful to the French Government for this support. The Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is a vital part of our healthcare system and investing in polio is an investment in the country’s overall health system.”

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He further added, “The polio infrastructure has proven how it can offer the most reliable support for the most challenging of health emergencies as we saw with the COVID-19 response, which capitalized on the experiences of polio surveillance teams.”

Agnès Soucat, Director of Health and Social Protection for the French Development Agency, led the French mission, while Jay Wegner, Global Head for Polio Eradication for the Gates Foundation, led the Gates Foundation team.

The group spoke about how the polio infrastructure was at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and the most recent flood response at a meeting with the country representatives of WHO and UNICEF.

After the NEOC conference, Special Health Secretary Mirza Nasir ud Din Mashhood Ahmad convened a debriefing at the Ministry of Health & discussed the effects of the floods of 2022, which wrecked 2,000 medical facilities, on Pakistan’s health system.

In this vein, the Health Secretary shared that “Despite the challenges of last year, the Government of Pakistan did not waver in its resolve to eradicate polio.

We remain committed to the cause and the multiple vaccination campaigns we have held since the floods are a testament to that commitment.”

Agnès Soucat on her part emphasized the importance of strengthening the primary health care system, integrated disease surveillance and response systems, and prioritizing preparedness for emerging and re-emerging diseases.

Likewise, she laid emphasis on future emergencies, including training frontline workers in primary health care and other needs.

Moreover, the Director of Health and Social Protection for the French Development Agency also stated how the country’s polio infrastructure is a strength and a chance for Pakistan to utilize it for other health and emergency responses after eradication.

The delegation members praised Pakistan’s success in polio eradication and reaffirmed their support to keep Pakistan on pace to stop wild poliovirus transmission this year, as envisioned in the global eradication strategy.

Polio hasn’t been present in the majority of Pakistan for about two years. In seven districts of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, wild poliovirus is still present and continues to threaten kids with weakened immune systems and malnourished bodies.

To ensure that every child receives the life-saving vaccine, the PEI, with the assistance of its partners, has increased vaccination schedules in these districts and continues to put forth avant-garde ideas, such as immunizing children who live in nomadic communities and immunizing children in transit.