Gates all praise for Khan's 'Sehat Ka Ittehad' polio campaign

Published March 25, 2015
In his letter, Gates recognised the use of mapping technology may be controversial but also pointed out that it had helped nearly eradicate the virus in Nigeria ─ Reuters/File
In his letter, Gates recognised the use of mapping technology may be controversial but also pointed out that it had helped nearly eradicate the virus in Nigeria ─ Reuters/File

KARACHI: In a letter sent to Imran Khan, Bill Gates commended the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman on his commitment to the eradication of the polio virus in Pakistan. The co-founder of Microsoft also expressed an interest in introducing mapping technology to the country in order to help combat polio.

Gates emphasised the importance of framing the issue of polio as a humanitarian rather than a political one, and was pleased by the display of unity from the army and different levels of government on the 'Sehat Ka Ittehad' campaign.

In his letter, Gates said, "It is encouraging to see the Army, federal, and provincial governments working together under your banner 'United for Health'. This initiative is key to interrupting transmission, and it highlights how polio is truly a humanitarian priority above political and partisan differences."

He recognised the use of mapping technology may be controversial ─ "I know there are sensitivities around this type of technology" ─ but also pointed out that it had helped nearly eradicate the virus in Nigeria.

Gates also mentioned that talks with the Chief Secretary and Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) regarding the injectable polio vaccination (IPV) campaign could help revitalise campaign efforts and may serve to revive the practice of monthly and quarterly review meetings.

This is not Gates' first conversation with Khan ─ the former had telephoned the PTI leader in March and appreciated his efforts in trying to eliminate polio virus from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Gates congratulated Imran on conducting a successful anti-polio campaign, ‘Sehat Ka Ittehad’, in the province. He also expressed grief and sorrow over the killing of 131 students during a Taliban attack on school in Peshawar.

The philanthropist assured his support to the KP government in carrying out further efforts to eliminate the crippling virus from the province.

Read more: Bill Gates praises KP’s anti-polio campaign

The ‘Sehat Ka Ittehad’ immunisation campaign targeting the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and KP was inaugurated on Feb 8, 2015.

Ten days into the commencement of the 'Sehat Ka Ittehad' campaign, the KP health department claimed that polio vaccination refusal cases in the province had declined from 45,000 to 27,000.

With the start of the second round of the SKI campaign in March, KP authorities had arrested more than 470 parents who refused to get their children vaccinated.

Police arrested the parents under section 3 of the Maintenance of Public Order on the directives of Deputy Commissioner Riaz Mehsud. The arrested parents were sent to jail.

Authorities had decided to arrest those resisting vaccinations because unvaccinated children put at risk even those who are vaccinated.

Officials in the National Health Ministry believed adopting the 'Sehat Ka Ittehad' model would reduce the number of attacks on polio vaccination teams.

“Their campaigns last just one day during which a ban is imposed on pillion riding. Hardly any attack has been observed in those areas of KP where the one-day campaign has been introduced,” the officials said earlier in March.

Read more: Federal govt may replicate KP’s model for anti-polio drive

Campaigns spread over two or three days allowed militants to monitor the drive on the first day and plot attacks on the vaccination teams the next day.

The third round of the 'Sehat Ka Ittehad' campaign concluded on Mar 21. The third round lasted for three days and resulted in the vaccination of about 5.1 million children under the age of five years ─ over 96 per cent of the set target.

Read more: Over 5m vaccinated in 3rd anti-polio round

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