UNITED NATIONS - With Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria the only remaining polio-infected countries in the world, President Asif Ali Zardari told an international audience that eradicating the crippling disease now was his country’s national priority.

“We are making real progress and polio cases over the last year are down by two-third in Pakistan,” the President told the world community while addressing a special meeting held here at United Nations coinciding with the 67th session of the UN General Assembly.

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, Pakistan’s Goodwill Ambassador on polio eradication, was among those present.

President Zardari said he felt confident that Pakistan will join the company of all the other nations where children do not suffer from polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

The President said, “It is a personal mission for my family as Pakistan began its quest to end polio when my wife, the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, immunised our child Aseefa in the first national polio campaign in my country 18 years ago.”

Enumerating difficulties in combating polio, the President said two years unprecedented floods made it difficult for the government to reach every child in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. The President said the immunisation programme has also been entangled in international politics.

“But we are now deploying innovative resources to address these challenges,” he said. “We are doing our best to get all stakeholders to own polio eradication and I have instructed our defence and law enforcing agencies to cooperate.”

The President said he also see a role for humanitarian agencies to help de-politicise polio and get all stakeholders on board.

“I’m pleased with the recent success to reach more than 30,000 children in the Tirah Valley in Khyber Agency, which had long remained inaccessible, with vaccines to prevent polio, measles and diphtheria,” said the President.

“In Tribal Areas, we are working with tribal leaders and religious clerics so everyone understands immunisation is a blessing, and a shared responsibility,” he said.

“Though we have very densely populated urban areas, in all major cities, we are mapping out every street corner and mobilising local leaders and engaging with parents to make sure campaigns are a success.” Appreciating the support from the international community the President said, “My government is significantly increasing its financial and resource commitment to polio eradication through the National Emergency Action Plan in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, UNICEF, JICA and Rotary International.”

During his meeting with Bill Gates, Co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the President said, “Pakistan recognises the need for continued and concerted action for the elimination of polio from the country and was committed to work with the international community for complete eradication of this disease.”

Bill Gates was accompanied by Chris Elias, President of Global Development Programme, Mark Suzman, Managing Director Policy Programme & Advocacy, Jay Wenger, Director for Polio Programme, and Waqar Ajmal, Senior Programme Officer.