The French Development Agency (AFD) has pledged $55 million to help support Pakistan’s Polio Programme operations.
“The AFD is committed to supporting the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) in immunisation activities, disease surveillance, polio campaign monitoring and other technical areas, and filling the funding gap of $55 million [under the PC-1 for polio eradication, 2022-2026] that the programme needed,” officials of the agency told the NEOC in a briefing.
A delegation of the AFD and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation met with the special health secretary and visited the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio Eradication, said the health ministry statement. The meetings were part of the delegation’s week-long visit to Pakistan to help support the country in the areas of health and social protection.
“We are very grateful to the French government for this support,” NEOC Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig said, “the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme is a vital part of our healthcare system and investing in polio is an investment in the country’s overall health system.”
Baig said: “The polio infrastructure has proven how it can offer the most reliable support for the most challenging of health emergencies like we saw with the Covid-19 response, which capitalized on the experiences of polio surveillance teams.”
The AFD delegation was headed by Director of Health and Social Protection Agnes Soucat while the Gates Foundation delegation was led by Global Head for Polio Eradication Jay Wegner.
The delegation held a meeting with the country representatives of WHO and UNICEF and discussed how the polio infrastructure was at the forefront in responding to the Covid pandemic and the recent flood response.
After the NEOC meeting, Special Health Secretary Mirza Nasiruddin Mashhood Ahmad held a briefing at the health ministry. He spoke about the impact on Pakistan’s health infrastructure after the 2022 floods, which left 2,000 health facilities damaged.
“Despite the challenges of last year, the Government of Pakistan did not waver in its resolve to eradicate polio. We remain committed to the cause and the multiple vaccination campaigns we have held since the floods are a testament to that commitment,” he said.
AFD Director of Health and Social Protection Agnes stressed the need for strengthening the primary health care system, integrated disease surveillance and response systems and prioritising preparedness for emerging and re-emerging diseases and future emergencies, including building the capacity of frontline workers for primary health care and other needs.
He described the polio infrastructure as a “strength” for the country and an “opportunity” for Pakistan to use it for other health and emergency responses post-eradication.
The delegation members “appreciated the progress Pakistan has made” in polio eradication and pledged their support to keep Pakistan on track to interrupt the transmission of poliovirus this year.
Most of Pakistan has remained polio free for nearly two years. Wild poliovirus remains in circulation in seven districts of southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it continues to pose a threat to children with low immunity and poor nutrition.