Pakistan, Afghanistan collaborate to end polio
Members of the Rotary Club of Dadu, Sind, Pakistan, walk to boost awareness of polio in their community. Bottom; Dadu club members regularly help vaccinate children during the country's immunization days. They also help ensure that children missed by immunization teams receive the oral polio vaccine. Photos courtesy of Rafique Ahmad Surhio
Health officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan endorsed joint strategies for stopping cross-border transmission of the poliovirus during a 10-11 February meeting in Islamabad, Pakistan.
"We need to consider Pakistan and Afghanistan as one block when it comes to fighting polio," said Dr. Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan's polio eradication program, during the meeting. "Our issues and challenges are the same, and thus their solutions are similar."
The meeting also included representatives from three of the spearheading partners of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative -- the World Health Organization, Rotary International, and UNICEF -- and other nongovernmental organizations. Among the participants were national PolioPlus committee chairs Abdul Haiy Khan of Pakistan and Dr. Ajmal Pardis of Afghanistan.
An important outcome of the meeting was an agreement to improve the condition and visibility of vaccination posts at border crossings. Dr. Rasheed Jooma, Pakistan's director-general of health, identified several strategies for achieving that objective, including:
- Joint appointment of community influencers to overcome security issues
- Microplanning of immunization efforts and mapping of border areas by the two countries
- Regular contact between health officials and exchange of technical data
- Assessing the need for new vaccination posts in border areas
The agreement comes at a critical time for both countries -- and the world -- in the battle to eradicate polio. Pakistan's health secretary, Sibtain Fazal Halim, emphasized the importance of engaging key religious leaders and tribal elders to negotiate access to areas with unimmunized children.
"The polio teams continue to strive for opportunities to immunize children whenever there is an ease in the situation," he said. "Protecting the health of our children is a collective responsibility."
Dr. Taufeeq Mashal, Afghanistan's director general of health, echoed those words, saying that security along the border has been a major obstacle to immunization campaigns. He said that health authorities are working to engage all stakeholders, including antigovernment elements, to reach the maximum number of children.
"The children of the region and the world look toward us for redoubling efforts to root out polio," said Mashal, adding that the two countries could expand their cooperation beyond joint health initiatives.
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