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Afghanistan-Pakistan coordination meeting on polio eradication begins in Abu Dhabi

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by Muhammad Aamir

ABU DHABI, 29th March, 2018 (WAM) -- The Afghanistan-Pakistan Coordination Meeting on the Common WPV Reservoirs began in Abu Dhabi today. The two-day meeting will review both countries efforts in their fight against the polio virus, with the help of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and support of the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme (UAE PAP).

The meeting was jointly chaired by Abdullah Khalifa Al-Gafli, Director of UAE PAP, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, Coordinator at the National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) and Chief of Field of Epidemiology and Disease Surveillance at the Division National Institute of Health (NIH) in Pakistan and Dr. Maiwand Ahmadzai, Director of the EOC in Afghanistan.

It was also attended by Christopher Maher, Manager of WHO's Polio Eradication in the region, UNICEF regional representatives, and field experts from both countries.

The meeting is in line with the UAE’s efforts to support humanitarian work and improve global health as part of the initiative of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to eliminate polio in the world. It is also in line with the country’s commitment to humanitarianism and assisting those in need, as well as to supporting human development programmes and providing preventative healthcare to underprivileged people and children around the world.

Under the UAE’s polio vaccination campaign in Pakistan from 2014 to 2017, 254,415,400 vaccination doses were given to over 43 million Pakistani children under the age of five. This contributed to a decrease in the numbers of those contracting the polio virus in Pakistan from 306 cases, which were registered during 2014, to 54 cases in 2015 and 20 cases in 2016. In 2017, the number declined to eight cases only, a decrease of 97 percent.

These promising results represent an important positive indicator in achieving UN goals of completely eradicating polio globally in the near future.

Speaking at the meeting Dr. Ahmadzai, explained the efforts undertaken by Afghanistan's government despite facing difficult security challenges, underlining the need for both countries to work together in this fight, especially around the Pak-Afghan border. He noted that polio vaccination campaigns have remained very successful in government-controlled areas in Afghanistan.

Dr. Rana Safdar thanked the UAE government for supporting polio eradication efforts in the region. He said both Pakistan and Afghanistan have worked very hard to mitigate polio cases especially during the last two years where he said cooperation efforts has been "extremely well." Safdar also presented the Northern and Southern Corridor Action Plans in the fight against polio, saying that both countries have shared challenges on the northern corridor, namely the security situation in the Pak-Afghan border area, which he stressed is hampering efforts to reach children.

The Pakistani official went on to call for extra efforts to stay ahead of the virus spreading in such intense environments. He added that communication challenges should be overcome in order to maximise the number of children reached in each campaign.

Safdar also highlighted the issues with inaccurate and false information being spread through social media, which he said can sometimes undermine vaccination efforts. He added that this can be addressed by effective public communication and education. The official suggested that one way this could be done is with both countries working more closely together by mapping joint operations and surveillance of targeted border areas, and "try to stick to the ground realities with enhanced syncronisation of campaigns."

WAM/MOHD AAMIR/Rasha Abubaker