ISLAMABAD: Days after the Trump administration announced it was suspending security assistance to the country, a billionaire philanthropist has committed that his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will increase financial aid for Pakistan.

In a letter to Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar – a copy of which is available with Dawn – Mr Gates praised the government’s commitment to the eradication of polio.

The Microsoft founder also acknowledges the receipt of certain concept notes regarding innovations in the health sector, especially with regards to “strengthening mother and child care and reproductive health”, which he said were being analysed by a team of experts.

The letter also suggests that Director General (DG) of Health Dr Asad Hafeez be nominated as the contact point between the ministry and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Pledge to expand healthcare support comes days after Trump administration suspends security aid

An NHS official told Dawn that the foundation was expected to increase their assistance, not only for the polio eradication programme, but also in other sectors.

“Mr Gates has nominated his technical team and it would hopefully meet the representatives of the ministry soon to finalise support in different sectors,” he said.

The official said the foundation had so far given Rs72 billion to Pakistan and it was expected that the amount of aid would increase in the future.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provides technical and financial resources to accelerate specific vaccination campaigns, routine immunisation and raising awareness. Although its sole focus in the past was supporting polio eradication campaigns, the latest communication indicates that the foundation may expand its assistance to other realms of the healthcare sector.

Last week, the Trump administration announced it was suspending security assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad proved its commitment to fight all terrorist groups operating in the region.

US State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert had said the cut-off was not permanent and only affects military assistance.

Funds will be allocated now for a particular purpose and will be released only after the target is achieved.

The Trump administration had already suspended $225 million worth of security assistance from the Foreign Military Financing fund, which is used to provide military equipment and training to a friendly country.

In his first tweet of the new year, President Trump had accused Pakistan of taking billions of dollars in aid and in return, giving “nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”.

However, responding to this new item, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has stated that “while the foundation is a major supporter of the Pakistani government’s work in polio eradication and other health initiatives, no increase was announced”.

Talking about the letter Mr Gates sent to Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar dated December 5, following a meeting held in November, the foundation clarified that “there is no connection between this letter and the US government’s recent announcements related to Pakistan”.

"The foundation has investments [in Pakistan] in several health initiatives including routine immunisation, maternal health, enteric and diarrheal diseases and financial services for the poor," reads the statement.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2018

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