AFD pledges $55 mln to support Pakistan’s Polio Program

Islamabad: French Development Agency (AFD) has pledged $55 million to help support Pakistan’s Polio Programme operations, in efforts to interrupt poliovirus transmission.

With this the French Development Agency (AFD) has become part of global polio eradication partners with its commitment to filling the funding gap of the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to end polio.

A delegation of the AFD and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation met the Special Health Secretary and visited the National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) for Polio Eradication.

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.

During a briefing at the NEOC, the AFD committed to supporting the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) in immunization 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.

NEOC Coordinator Dr Shahzad Baig emphasized the significance of the polio infrastructure to Pakistan’s healthcare. “We are very grateful to the French Government for this support.”

“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,” he said.

He added, “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 French Development Agency delegation was headed by Agnès Soucat, Director of Health and Social Protection, while the Gates Foundation delegation was led by Jay Wegner, Global Head for Polio Eradication.

The delegation held a meeting with the Country Representatives of WHO and UNICEF and discussed how the polio infrastructure was on the forefront in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent flood response.

After the NEOC meeting, Special Health Secretary Mirza Nasir ud Din Mashhood Ahmad held a debrief at the Ministry of Health and 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,” the Health Secretary said.

Ms. Agnes emphasized on strengthening the primary health care system, integrated disease surveillance and response systems and prioritizing preparedness for emerging and re-emerging diseases and future emergencies, including building the capacity of frontline workers for primary health care and other needs.

Ms. Agnes also mentioned how the polio infrastructure is 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 wild poliovirus this year, as envisioned in the global eradication strategy.

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.

The PEI, with support from its partners, has intensified vaccination schedules in these districts and continues to implement innovative strategies, such as vaccination of nomadic children and transit vaccinations, to reach every last child with the life-saving vaccine.