PESHAWAR, Sept 17: Saudi Arabia is to give $200 million to Pakistan to strengthen its vaccination programme meant for fighting childhood diseases, according to former Saudi health minister Dr Hussain A Gezairy.
“The Islamic Investment Bank of Jeddah will shortly give the grant to Pakistan to help it fulfill the national obligation of safeguarding its children against diseases,” he told Dawn on Monday.
He said the money would be spent on improvement of vaccination programme against 10 diseases.
Dr Hussain said Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and other Muslim countries were offering financial assistance to Pakistan in its fight against childhood diseases for a healthy nation.
“I’m sure that my appeal to the Taliban to allow children’s vaccination won’t go unheard. As a Muslim, I have also appealed to other Muslims for the purpose and am hopeful of getting positive response,” he said.
Dr Gezairy, who remained health minister of Saudi Arabia from 1975 to 1982 before joining WHO 30 year ago, said he expected that the sense would prevail and the Taliban would permit vaccination in North and South Waziristan agencies and other parts of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
“In Afghanistan, the Taliban have declared ceasefire to facilitate vaccination because they want to protect children,” he said.
The ex-minister said the Saudi government had imposed restrictions on Pakistani Umra and Hajj visitors to present a vaccination card before embarking on flight and compulsory vaccination on arrival there because it wanted to protect millions of people.“Children in Saudi Arabia are safe due to immunisation but restrictions are meant to protect other people, who are vulnerable due to low immunity,” he said.
Dr Gezairy said a few years ago, some Nigerian pilgrims transported poliovirus to Saudi Arabia, where three children were infected.
“Now, vaccination is a must for pilgrims,” he said.
The ex-Saudi minister said the Taliban must understand that the WHO’s polio eradication initiative was a global campaign supported by 194 countries and aimed at making the world free from childhood diseases.
“Use of oral polio vaccine has led to the elimination of the virus from most countries,” he said.
He said Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan were the only polio endemic countries, which transported the virus to the countries, which were long declared polio-free.
Dr Gezairy denied that OPV caused impotence and sterility, and said noted scholars had issued edicts in favour of vaccines, which didn’t harm human health.
“Vaccines are used worldwide. They are manufactured mainly by Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, India and some European countries and are procured by WHO under certain specifications. There is no specific vaccine for a specific country. Vaccine of the same quality is used everywhere,” he said.
The ex-Saudi minister said vaccines were the only way to eradicate polio from Pakistan and once polio was eradicated, the huge funds spent on anti-polio activities would be diverted to the fight against other child health problems.
He said eradication of polio entailed both physical and economic benefits for the country.
“Polio-affected children become a burden for their families as healthy children lead active life,” he said.