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WHO says refusals key challenge to eradicating polio in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD: Missing children and refusals by parents are the key challenges facing the eradication of polio in Pakistan, World Health Organisation Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.

Addressing a press conference at the WHO head office on his last day in the country, Dr Ghebreyesus said: “Pakistan also needs to stop transmission of virus of crippling disease from Afghanistan. Our New Year’s wish is ‘zero’ polio by end of 2019.

The children of Pakistan and the children of the world deserve nothing less. Failure to eradicate polio would result in global resurgence of the disease, with as many as 200,000 new cases every year, all over the world.”

Dr Ghebreyesus was accompanied on his second official visit to Pakistan by WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari.

During his visit, he met with President Dr Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan, National Health Services (NHS) Minister Aamer Mehmood Kayani, Foreign Affairs Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Finance Minister Asad Umar, Planning, Development and Reforms Minister Makhdum Khusro Bakhtyar and Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari.

He said he was “glad to see” political will to address health-related issues, pointing to Mr Khan’s visits to hospitals in the capital as well as the government’s decision to double the health budget – currently 0.9pc of the GDP – this year and increasing it to 5pc in five years. He also praised the decision to impose a ‘sin’ tax on cigarettes and sugary beverages.

Dr Ghebreyesus said that “major investment should be made in primary healthcare”, adding that the government’s plans are in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Family planning and stunting of over 40pc of children are very important issues. Every child’s first 1000 days are very important and policies should focus on them,” he said.

He added that the WHO would provide all the necessary support to implement the Prime Minister’s National Health Programme and to address the critical issue of stunting and malnutrition in Pakistan.

Dr Ghebreyesus also called on Mr Khan on Tuesday, accompanied by the president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Division, Dr Christopher Elias.

He said the WHO had increased its focus on public health, country-level impact and improving people’s access to health-related knowledge and information. He also told Mr Khan about the WHO’s ongoing programmes and projects in the country, explaining that the organisation has increased its level of support in Pakistan considerably mainly due to intensified polio eradication activities.

Mr Khan said the government is determined to implement a transformative social and economic agenda for a ‘new Pakistan’ and reiterated his commitment to move forward with thesustainable development agenda.

Dr Elias also delivered a letter from Bill Gates to Mr Khan at their meeting.

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