Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday expressed "serious concern" over the recent spike in polio cases in the country and directed federal and provincial government officials to undertake effective awareness and immunisation campaigns so that the disease can be kept in check.
In a high-level meeting called by him, the premier impressed upon the attendees the fact that polio eradication is the "top-most priority of the government as it affects the future generation", a statement released by the Prime Minister's Office said.
According to the handout, Prime Minister Imran also stressed upon the need for a robust partnership between the government's Ehsas social safety initiative and the anti-polio programme for the synergised implementation of the two vital programmes.
A total of 53 cases of polio have been reported across the country this year, compared to 12 in 2018 and eight in 2017. So far, 41 were reported from KP and its tribal districts, five from Punjab, four from Balochistan and three from Sindh.
The meeting was attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mahmood Khan; Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan; Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza; Prime Minister's Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta; Pakistan Army Engineer-in-Chief Lt Gen Moazzam Ejaz; High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan Wendy Gilmore; federal health secretary; chief secretaries of Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan; representatives from Unicef, WHO and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and other senior officials.
Babar Bin Atta briefed the meeting regarding a report by the International Monitoring Board for the year 2017-18 which identifies the loopholes in the strategy employed previously, as a result of which a spike in polio cases was witnessed recently, especially in the Bannu division.
Atta said that under the new strategy, a four-pronged system will come into effect which will bring about a shift from push to pull (getting families to realise the importance of immunisation and opting for it themselves), from disease control to eradication, ownership at the highest level and complete accountability at the operational level.
Highlighting the various initiatives taken for "perception management" among the people, he said that the power of social media platforms was being harnessed to counter "anti-vaccine propaganda". He also said the mainstream media was being utilised to undertake a mass awareness campaign, besides the establishment of a 24/7 call centre and publicising environment or human cases.
The chief ministers of KP and Balochistan and the chief secretaries of Punjab and Sindh took the participants into confidence about the polio eradication measures taken in their respective provinces.
The Pakistan Army representative "assured full support to polio teams in their efforts to reach out to the children in far-flung areas of the country", according to the statement.
International organisations also expressed their resolve for continued cooperation with Pakistan in its polio eradication mission.
During the meeting, the deputy director polio for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, Dr Tim Peterson, presented a letter of appreciation from Bill Gates to the prime minister "for efforts being made to eliminate the crippling disease", read the statement.