Bill Gates urges Afghanistan and Pakistan to "get to zero" in polio fight

FILE PHOTO: A boy receives polio vaccine drops, during an anti-polio campaign, in a low-income neighbourhood in Karachi, Pakistan April 9, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Bill Gates urges Afghanistan and Pakistan to "get to zero" in polio fight

  • Gates was optimistic about the global plan to eradicate polio virus
  • There were 33 cases of polio in 2018 and six so far in 2019 worldwide

LONDON: Local Afghan Taliban leaders are hindering global efforts to end polio, but Afghanistan and Pakistan must continue their fight to "get to zero" cases, the philanthropist Bill Gates said on Monday.
In a telephone interview with Reuters, Gates was optimistic about the global plan to eradicate the paralysing viral disease, but said Afghanistan's conflict and power struggles hamper progress.

"The big issue there is always with the Taliban," said Gates, whose multi-billion dollar philanthropic Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the biggest funders of the polio eradication campaign.

Polio is a virus that spreads in areas with poor sanitation. It attacks the nervous system and can cause irreversible paralysis within hours of infection. Children under five are the most vulnerable, but polio can be prevented with vaccination.

Success in reducing case numbers worldwide has been largely due to intense national and regional immunisation campaigns in babies and children.

Latest Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) figures show that worldwide, there were 33 cases of polio in 2018 and six so far in 2019 - 16 of them in Pakistan and 23 in Afghanistan. These two, plus Nigeria, are the last remaining countries where the disease is endemic.

The GPEI, which includes the WHO, the Gates Foundation, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and others, began its push to wipe out polio in 1988, when the disease was endemic in 125 countries and was paralysing almost 1,000 children a day worldwide.

Since then, there has been at least a 99 percent reduction in cases. But eradicating the disease - something that has only ever been achieved with one other human disease, smallpox - is proving a long and challenging task.

"We've got to get Afghanistan and Pakistan to zero," Gates said. "We need government donors to stay committed."

Gates, a billionaire who co-founded of Microsoft, said the global polio program is making progress in Pakistan and has a good relationship with Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has prioritised the polio fight.
The "only potential negative" in the region is instability in Afghanistan, Gates said, where Taliban leaders appear to have no single policy but "decide what they will and what they won't allow" regarding polio vaccinations.

"That's what we don't have predictability or control over," he said. "Sometimes they stop the campaigns from taking place. But the ideal is when they allow house-to-house (vaccine) delivery."
Gates pointed to India, which 12 years ago was responsible for 70 percent of all polio cases and this week marks five years since it last recorded a case.

Gates had previously described the challenge of wiping out polio in India, which has a population of 1.3 billion people and some areas of very poor sanitation, as "mind boggling". Success there, he said, shows polio can eventually be ended worldwide.


Pakistani politicians, analysts appreciate Saudi Crown Prince’s stance on regional peace

Updated 17 June 2019
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Pakistani politicians, analysts appreciate Saudi Crown Prince’s stance on regional peace

  • The Crown Prince’s recent statement reflects his wisdom and restraint, says Senator Sehar Kamran
  • International community must act to defuse situation in the Middle East, maintains senior analyst Zahid Hussain

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s major political parties and analysts on Monday appreciated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statement that the Kingdom did not want a war in the Middle East.
In an interview last week, the Crown Prince also called for a decisive international position against Iran.
“At this very critical moment, the demonstration of restraint by the Saudi Crown Prince is very much appreciated. This shows his wisdom and rationale,” Senator Sehar Kamran of the Pakistan Peoples Party told Arab News, adding: “I believe the entire world will applaud the statement. We must give peace a chance and support efforts for political solution to all outstanding issues.”
“The international community can play an important role in reminding Iran of the consequences [of war] and help initiate a dialogues process to prevent further escalation of tensions in the region,” she continued.
Kamran said the recent attack on a Saudi oil tanker was a serious issue and must be strongly condemned.
“Every nation has the right to protect its sovereignty and national assets,” she noted. “Iran must act as a responsible state. A transparent investigation of the attack by the United Nations and collective wisdom on the issue will be the best option.”
Echoing her sentiment, Romina Khurshid Alam of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party also welcomed the Crown Prince’s statement.

“Our party leadership has always advocated for peace in the region and supports Pakistan’s role as a mediator to resolve all outstanding issues,” she said.
Omar Sarfraz Cheema, the central information secretary of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, told Arab News that “the PTI strongly condemns attacks on Saudi facilities by Houthis.”
He recalled that the Pakistani leadership had expressed its desire to play a mediator’s role for peace and stability in the Middle East.
Last week, Cheema told Arab News that Prime Minister Imran Khan had already urged the Houthis to engage in “meaningful dialogue” with Saudi Arabia to resolve the conflict. “This is a divisive issue for the whole Muslim world and should be resolved through negotiations,” he added.
“Peace is essential for the development of countries in the Middle East,” former Pakistani ambassador Rizwan-ul-Haq told Arab News. “Any country which upsets the tranquility and peace of the region must be invited to explain its position to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and asked to change its stance in a unanimous and decisive way.”
“We should sit together with transgressors and find a diplomatic solution before resorting to extreme measures,” he added.
Veteran Pakistani political commentator Zahid Hussain said that “the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf and oil facilities in the Kingdom have created a serious security situation in the Middle East and there is an urgent need for the international community to act and defuse the situation.”
“The Crown Prince is right that war is not an option,” he added.