ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday expressed serious concern over 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.

The premier also announced leading the polio programme from November.

The meeting was chaired by the prime minister and attended by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Mehmood Khan, Balochistan Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan, Special Assistant to the PM on Health Dr Zafar Mirza, PM’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta, Engineer-in-Chief of Pakistan Army Lt Gen Moazzam Ejaz, and High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan Wendy Gilmore, as well as the federal health secretary, chief secretaries of Punjab, KP, Sindh and Balochistan, representatives from Unicef, WHO, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and senior officials.

According to a statement issued from PM Office, PM’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication briefed the meeting about the recent incidence, measures being taken and the future strategy for polio eradication.

Focal person says parents mark fingers of their children themselves to avoid vaccination

Mr Atta also briefed the meeting about the report of International Monitoring Board for the year 2017-18 identifying loopholes in the strategy at that time which led to recent spike of polio cases in some parts of the country, especially in Bannu division.

He also highlighted various measures being taken for perception management including engagement with social media platforms to counter anti-vaccine propaganda, involving mainstream media for mass awareness campaign, establishment of 24/7 call centres and publicising environment or human cases.

Mr Atta, while talking to Dawn, said the meeting was informed that there was mistrust in the community and during every polio campaign it was observed that parents marked the fingers of their children themselves to avoid vaccination.

The prime minister, while endorsing the suggestions, said that the polio team had not achieved the optimum level for convincing the masses and directed to do more efforts. “During the meeting, I demanded that the premier should issue an executive order that no DC would register a First Information Report (FIR) in case of refusal by the parents because it further increases refusals. The prime minister agreed and the order will be issued in a few days,” he said.

“I also requested Mr Khan that we need his personal leadership during low transmission season which starts from November and ends in April. The premier will lead the polio eradication campaign himself from November,” he said.

Mr Atta said that it was also discussed that district commissioners don’t listen to the provincial polio officers so it was decided that in future BPS 20 officers would be appointed at those posts and they would be called provincial polio chiefs. “Moreover they (chiefs) would be authorised to get the complete record of the Expanded Programme of Immunisation (EPI),” he said.

“It was decided that the polio programme would be run on the basis of four pillars i.e. rather than pushing people we will pull them in the programme, government will take 100 per cent ownership of the programme, from disease control to eradication and 100pc accountability would be assured across the board,” he said.

The chief ministers of KP and Balochistan and the chief secretaries of Punjab and Sindh apprised the meeting regarding measures taken for polio eradication in their respective provinces.

Prime Minister Khan said that polio eradication was the top-most priority of the government as it affected the future generation. He stressed upon the need for a robust Ehsaas Polio Partnership for implementation of the two vital programmes.

The army representative assured full support to polio teams in their efforts to reach out to the children in far-flung areas of the country.

Representatives of international partners and donors also assured their continued cooperation to the government the in polio eradication mission.

Deputy Director of Polio Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Dr Tim Peterson presented a letter of appreciation from Bill Gates to Prime Minister Khan for efforts being made to eliminate the crippling disease.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2019