ISLAMABAD - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, chairing a meeting of the National Task Force on Polio Eradication, made a firm commitment that the virus would not be tolerated in Pakistan and reiterated the country would fulfil all international obligations in this regard.

He announced eradication of polio from the country in next six months and set up a cabinet committee, comprising the ministers for defence, interior and health, for eradication of the virus.

The prime minister asserted no laxity in the implementation of polio campaigns would be allowed. Highlighting the challenges in the campaigns, the prime minister referred to attacks on health workers delivering polio vaccine as having no precedence anywhere in the world.

Musaddiq Malik, an aide to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said the government was launching a new drive against polio focused on “outcomes”. “The prime minister has declared war on polio. The PM believes every child is his and no child will be left behind,” he told reporters. “We are committed irrespective of the hardships, irrespective of the challenge.”

The government hopes to take advantage of the cool winter months, when polio transmission falls off, to strike a decisive blow against the disease, he said.

The meeting was attended by all chief ministers, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor, the Azad Kashmir prime minister and federal ministers for interior, defence and information. The minister of state for national health services, representatives of Unicef, World Bank, WHO, JICA and ambassador of Japan were also present at the meeting.

“We have grasped the opportunity of exodus of the IDPs from North Waziristan to vaccinate 0.8 million children who had not received the vaccine since June 2012,” the prime minister shared with the participants.

“Any laxity, negligence and inaction shall be a crime against our future generations,” the prime minister warned. Terming the rise in the number of reported cases as an emergency, the prime minister said: “The war against it can be won and has to be won.”

The prime minister announced to personally review progress of the programme every fortnight. He called on the chief ministers to make the initiative a priority and provide personal oversight to the efforts besides ensuring foolproof security arrangements for the campaigns.

Referring to the concern of the international community over surge in polio cases in the country, the prime minister said Pakistan was a responsible nation and had instantly implemented polio vaccination for travellers in compliance with IHR Emergency Committee recommendations.

The prime minister asked the World Bank representative to convey his special gratitude to the WB president for his offer of supporting Pakistan is its anti-polio efforts.

During the briefing, the prime minister was informed that Japan would provide a funding of Rs 550 million to Pakistan for polio eradication. He was told that Bill and Malinda Gates Foundation had pledged Rs 37 billion for polio eradication. The prime minister thanked the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Islamic Development Bank for providing substantial financial assistance for polio Eradication efforts in the country.

The provincial chief ministers briefed the prime minister on the polio situation and efforts being made to counter the challenge in their provinces. Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said owing to the stringent measures taken in the province, the environmental samples in Rawalpindi and Lahore that were positive for polio are now negative. He offered support to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chef minister to cover all IDPs in the camps.

KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak said his province had reported the second highest number of polio cases and expressed disappointment that it had happened despite intensive campaigns. He attributed the situation to insecurity and law and order issues in the province.

Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah said polio was now confined to Karachi and they were working to provide foolproof security to the teams to ensure conduct of quality campaigns in Karachi. He said the polio campaign could not take off in eight union councils of Karachi due to law and order situation. He, however, said the security agencies were working to ensure safety of polio workers.

National Health Services Minister Saira Afzal Tarar said: “We should focus on over 400 high-risk union councils.” She said her ministry had been providing the provinces with technical guidance and support.

Earlier, making a detailed presentation to the meeting, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq threw light on the polio situation across the country. Most of the cases were from security-hit areas, she added.

She revealed the low transmission season for poliovirus begins from November and it is the best time to suppress the virus through an intensive campaign activity. She called upon the provinces to implement the low-season plan in letter and spirit. She observed strengthening routine immunisation services was a key strategy to eradicate polio, adding the provinces should take urgent steps in this regard.

AFP adds: Cases of the crippling disease have soared to a 14-year high in Pakistan this year, with 235 confirmed infections – two times more than the total in 2013.

Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic, but years of efforts to stamp it out have been badly hit by opposition from militants and attacks on immunisation teams. The problem is concentrated in the northwest where Taliban militants banned vaccination in North and South Waziristan tribal areas on the Afghan border.

The re-launch comes after the Independent Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative issued a highly critical assessment of Pakistan’s efforts to tackle the disease.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly as its virus flourishes,” the report by a panel of international experts late last month said. It lambasted political commitment and quality of public health leadership as “totally inadequate”.