ABU DHABI, 23rd October 2018 (WAM) — Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli, UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme Director, said that the programme succeeded in reducing the number of polio cases in Pakistan from 306 cases in 2014 to four cases in October 2018, a decrease of 98 percent.
In an interview with the Emirates News Agency, WAM, Al Ghafli said the efforts aimed at eradicating polio in Pakistan are paying off with total eradication of the disease at hand. He pointed out that the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme, UAE-PAP, is in the implementation of the directives of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which reflects the policy aimed at supporting the global efforts to eradicate epidemics and viruses globally.
He added that the unstinted support by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has contributed to ensuring the total eradication of the disease after benefitting more than 400 million people around the world.
“In 2013, Abu Dhabi had hosted the World Vaccine Summit in which His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed launched his initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis in the world and announced a donation of US$120 million to eradicate this disease. Within this framework, the wise leadership issued directives to establish the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme by launching the UAE vaccination campaign against polio in Pakistan,” Al Ghafli said.
In 2014, the campaign targeted more than 13 areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas region, which had the highest rate of poliomyelitis in Pakistan, and was suffering from a complete cessation of the vaccination campaigns in most areas due to security threats. The geographical coverage expanded in the past five years to include 83 areas in four provinces targeting 13.54 million Pakistani children a month.
He stressed that preparing for the campaign was not easy, and highlighted the responsibility of achieving the directives of the wise leadership to manage the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme in areas where national and international campaigns had failed to operate. It required difficult field studies and putting in place advanced and innovative plans to overcome challenges and field problems, the most difficult of which was bringing about a change in mindsets and beliefs in the community about vaccines.
He said that the name of the UAE and its leaders were trusted by different tribes, people and families who had benefitted from the campaigns, and noted that security plans were made to cover all areas and ensure the safety of the teams conducting the vaccinations. They were supported by the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistani police, as well as awareness campaigns prior to the start of monthly campaigns which had a positive effect on the community and convinced them to cooperate.
Al Ghafli spoke about the key challenges facing the campaign since it began, especially the negative ideas about the disease which they overcame due to the reputation of the UAE and its wise leadership, as well as the impact of the social awareness campaigns and the developments of the capacities of the vaccination teams in impacting the opinions of the targeted children’s parents.
He highlighted the support by influential figures to the vaccination teams who formed follow-up groups and supported the teams being prevented from reaching out to the children, as well as the use of schools and universities to hold awareness lectures about the disease and encouraging parents to cooperate with the vaccination campaigns.
Al Ghafli praised the efforts of the vaccination teams who he described as the “real warriors” and the cornerstone to the success of this project. He highlighted the implementation of a special strategy to develop their performance and increase the success of their efforts, that consisted of raising their monthly compensation and adjusting their training period.
The UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme Director noted that they implemented a community vaccination teams’ system, that consists of groups from the community or the area they are operating in and they know all the children in the region and are trusted by the community.
He highlighted the cessation of vaccination campaigns in 2018 in Afghanistan due to the security situation. There are more than 1.5 million children who have not been vaccinated as against a total 9.5 million, and they have learnt that a large percentage of these children who are in Pakistan on a daily basis which means the virus could reappear in Pakistan.
Al Ghafli elaborated that in this regard, the UAE upon the directives of H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, initiated a coordination meeting in Abu Dhabi in March 2018 attended by the representatives of the WHO, ministries of health and administrations of the national campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in which they studied and coordinated the annual future plans of the vaccination campaigns on the strategic level, and exchanged information and daily monitoring indexes of the virus and plans of monitoring borders between the two countries.
He stressed that the campaign will continue to vaccinate Pakistani children in 2019 and 2020 in light of the UAE’s commitment with the declaration of the global conference that was held in Atlanta, United States, in 2017 to completely eradicate polio in the world.
The UAE-PAP Director highlighted the vision and approach of His Highness Sheikh Mohamed in supporting the global efforts to eradicate polio, malaria and Guinea worm, and appreciated his initiatives and generous support in this regard.
Al Ghafli said that His Highness Sheikh Mohamed donated US$167 million for the efforts aimed at eradicating poliomyelitis and the provision of vaccines for children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.
He highlighted the fact that H.H. Sheikh Mohamed’s support also included the people working in field vaccination groups as he directed that they be honoured with the polio eradication heroes award ceremony that was held in Abu Dhabi in December 2015 and was attended by Bill Gates the Co-Founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Sheikh Mohamed’s initiatives included the launch of the “Last Mile” Fund for the eradication of contagious diseases and the Mohamed bin Zayed International Health Award to honour the heroes.
He highlighted the cooperation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in implementing and funding the UAE vaccination campaign and developing future plans of the campaign and the humanitarian partnerships between Sheikh Mohamed and Bill Gates in the field of providing healthcare and combatting disease and epidemic.