Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, during a telephonic conversation with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday, assured Pakistan of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's (BMGF) continued support "for ensuring that no child is at risk of paralysis due to poliovirus" in the country.
During the talk, Gates hailed Pakistan's "positive progress" in containing the disease, according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.
The two dignitaries discussed the ongoing public health and social sector programmes, including polio eradication and the Foundation’s support for improving immunisation, nutrition and financial inclusion services in Pakistan.
In his remarks, Shehbaz underscored that Pakistan deeply valued its cooperation with the BMGF and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to further solidifying its "fruitful partnership with the Foundation in all the ongoing areas of work".
"Pakistan has maintained progress towards polio eradication and appreciates the invaluable assistance provided by BMGF in that regard," the statement reads.
The prime minister noted that only one case of polio was found in the country in 2021, saying the government was committed to eradicating all forms of polio from the country.
He also expressed grave concern on the first case of poliovirus in 2022, after 15 months, which was recently confirmed in a child in a North Waziristan area.
"A special emergency response plan for South Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province is already under implementation to scale up and improve the quality of the polio eradication programme and increase the security of frontline health workers," the statement said.
Recalling the polio related challenges faced across the border, the prime minister expressed satisfaction with the resumption of polio vaccination campaigns in Afghanistan.
The prime minister and Gates discussed BMGF’s support for various other government-led programmes aimed at addressing malnutrition and stunting, essential immunisation services, operationalisation of micropayment gateways financial inclusion, and digitization of the National Savings Programme.
It is pertinent to mention here that Gates had paid his first-ever visit to Pakistan on Feb 17 and met then prime minister Imran Khan.
Later, President Dr Arif Alvi had conferred the Hilal-i-Pakistan award on Gates during a special ceremony in Islamabad in "recognition of his support for poverty alleviation and healthcare".