ISLAMABAD - President Asif Ali Zardari has said that polio eradication is among the top priorities of the government and he has himself written letters to all the governors and chief ministers recently, urging them to personally oversee the polio eradication programme so as to ensure its effective implementation.

This he said during a meeting with Dr Robert S Scott, Chair of Rotary’s International Polio Plus Committee, here at Aiwan-e-Sadr on Wednesday. The President said Pakistan was fully committed to achieving the Millennium Development Goals relating to the protection of mother and child health and reducing infant, child and maternal mortality. He said the initiative to eradicate polio was launched by Shaheed leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto in 1994 beginning the drive by vaccinating her own daughter. Today, he said, Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, the first child to be immunised against polio in the country, is carrying forward this mission as Ambassador for Polio Eradication in Pakistan.

The President said that the Govt of Pakistan in January 2012 launched the Augmented National Emergency Action Plan for Polio Eradication that focuses on greater ownership, oversight and accountability at the federal, provincial, district and union council levels besides strategies to ensure access in the areas where the law and order situation hampered reach out to the eligible children.

He said that the progress was being closely monitored and all the district management officers and health officers have been instructed to ensure that everyone is benefiting from the vaccination campaigns launched in their districts. “We are pursuing zero tolerance policy as far as the performance and reach out aspects are concerned,” the President said.

The President said that there were some challenges in reaching out to the children in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the initiative received setback as a result of the security situation. He said that governor of Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and the health authorities in Fata were working closely with the Armed Forces to provide security and access to the polio teams. Furthermore, these children were being taken care of through Special Polio Points at Agency and district borders, he said.

He said that the government was encouraging participation of all stakeholders including media, religious teachers and civil society organisations for the success of the initiatives against polio. He said the flagship poverty alleviation programme of the present government, the Benazir Income Support Programme, has also joined hands with the health authorities in the eradication of polio from the country.

Dr Robert S Scott, holder of Sitara-i-Khidmat Award, thanked the President for meeting and appreciated the steps taken by the government, especially the contribution of Ms Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, for eradication of polio in Pakistan. 

Those who were present during the meeting included among others Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination, Ms Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Social Sector/ Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication, Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho, Chairman, Standing Committee on Defence/ Member, National Task Force, Mr M Salman Faruqui, Secretary General, and other senior officials. Chairman PPP Mr Bilawal Bhutto Zardari was also present in the meeting.