Pakistan launches emergency polio action plan

Rotary International News

Responding to a sharp increase in the number of polio cases in Pakistan in 2010, the nation’s government has launched the National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication 2011.

The plan, developed by national and international health experts at the request of President Asif Ali Zardari, has two main goals — to stop polio outbreaks by mid-2011 and to halt transmission of the disease by year’s end.

Pakistan was the only one of the world’s four polio-endemic countries to see an increase in polio cases last year — 142 compared with 89 in 2009. And, Pakistan’s total accounted for more than 60% of all cases among the four, which also include Afghanistan, India, and Nigeria. That increase “was a cause of alarm for the nations of the world, who were preparing to usher in, [in] the near future, a world without the scourge of this disease,” says health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin. “Failure is no option. We have come this far after years of efforts with the support of our international partners, and we must now finish the job with a more focused approach toward the last remaining bottlenecks that threaten to reverse the gains we have made.”

A national task force will oversee implementation of the plan, which is aimed at reaching children in high-risk districts, mobile populations, and insecure areas.

“There will be strict oversight of the plan at the national and provincial levels through monitoring cells,” Zardari said. “We shall be working on a fast-track emergency plan with the support of our security forces to access children and households in the security-sensitive areas.”

Rotarian coordinators assigned by the Pakistan PolioPlus Committee are mobilizing Rotary clubs to provide support in the country’s four provinces. Club members will assist with the effort “to cover every nook and corner of the country,” says Aziz Memon, chair of the committee. “We are committed to a polio-free Pakistan.”

The plan’s progress will be evaluated by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative’s independent monitoring board, established in 2010 to assess the GPEI’s effectiveness in fulfilling its 2010-12 strategic plan. Rotary is a spearheading partner of the initiative, along with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zardari thanked Rotary International and the other global partners for their support of the emergency action plan. In recognition of Rotary’s role in the drive toward polio eradication in Pakistan, he awarded the President’s Award for Pride of Performance to Memon and the Star of Good Conduct to International PolioPlus Committee Chair Robert S. Scott.

“We need this spirit of partnership in the country at this critical time,” Zardari said. “No challenge is too big to stop us from saving our children from polio and ridding the world of this disease.”

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