Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

A police officer helps a health worker administer a polio vaccine to a child in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, July 30, 2021. (Photo courtesy: AP)
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Updated 20 September 2021

Pakistan launches third anti-polio drive to immunize over 40 million children

  • Health chief reports ‘significant gains’ in initiative with zero cases in seven months
  • Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world with circulating wild poliovirus

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan launched a week-long national anti-polio immunization drive on Monday, its third this year, to vaccinate over 40 million children under five years of age after making “significant gains” against the crippling disease in the past seven months, officials said.
The South Asian nation of over 220 million people had resumed its anti-polio drive in June, months after halting it due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which had overwhelmed the country’s health system, and amid threats to the campaign by militants who often target polio teams, alleging that the initiative is a Western conspiracy to sterilize children.
Pakistan remains one of only two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, with circulating wild poliovirus, which has been eradicated elsewhere, attesting to the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
“The program has made significant gains with not a single case being reported for seven months, giving us a unique opportunity to achieve polio eradication,” Dr. Faisal Sultan, Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Health, said in a statement on Monday.
In the latest chapter, nearly 2,90,000 polio workers will visit people’s homes while adhering to strict COVID-19 health protocols, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Program (PPEP) said.
Along with being inoculated with the polio vaccine, the children will also receive an extra dose of Vitamin A.
Dr. Shahzad Baig, a PPEP coordinator, said that the “campaign is vital for Pakistan’s ability to achieve polio eradication” after only one case was reported this year compared to 75 last year.
The PPEP statement added that the significant reduction in cases was also due to “a decrease in positive environmental samples from 55 percent to 12 percent,” highlighting that poliovirus is “less active” in the country.
“This is one of the lowest levels of detected wild poliovirus in the history of the country. It is vital that this opportunity to finally eradicate polio from Pakistan is seized,” the statement said.
Polio is a highly infectious disease mainly affecting children under five years of age. It invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis or even death. While there is no cure for polio, vaccination is the most effective way to protect children from the disease.


Pakistani finance chief joins talks on bailout loan in Washington as IMF cites ‘progress’ 

Updated 29 sec ago

Pakistani finance chief joins talks on bailout loan in Washington as IMF cites ‘progress’ 

  • Pakistani and IMF are currently engaged in talks for the release of $1 billion tranche of $6 billion loan
  • In June, similar talks between the two sides failed to bring agreement on conditions for the tranche

ISLAMABAD: IMF Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department, Jihad Azour, has said there was ‘progress’ in talks between officials from the IMF and Pakistan for the release of the latest tranche in a bailout package.
The comments come as Pakistani media reported this and last week that ongoing talks for the release of a $1 billion tranche of a three-year, $6 billion bailout package accord reached in 2019 had failed.
Five reviews of the program had been completed by March. The sixth is pending since June this year, which, if completed, will enable Pakistan to receive around $1 billion from the fund.
On Tuesday, the finance ministry said Pakistan’s finance chief Shaukat Tarin had returned to Washington to join the ongoing discussions.
https://twitter.com/MuzzammilAslam3/status/1450433131559981057?s=20
“The IMF mission to Pakistan and authorities are currently in the process of discussion around the sixth review of the program and the discussions are progressing around the various pillars of the program and the measures that the government of Pakistan is currently contemplating,” Azour said as he unveiled the IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook.
“The progress has gone in a very good step and the mission with the authorities is going through various details.”
The government’s finance ministry this week dismissed reports by local media over the weekend that talks were inconclusive.
“Negotiations between Pakistan and IMF are moving forward positively. No timeframe was set at any stage for the conclusion of the talks,” a statement issued by the finance ministry said.
In June, a similar round of talks between the two sides failed to bring agreement on conditions for the tranche.


Pakistani physician elected to National Academy of Medicine, one of highest honors in medicine 

Updated 20 October 2021

Pakistani physician elected to National Academy of Medicine, one of highest honors in medicine 

  • Dr. Anita Zaidi is president for gender equality at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • She was elected “for global leadership in paediatric infectious disease research and capacity development“

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani physician Dr. Anita Zaidi was elected this week to the National Academy of Medicine, considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.
Founded in 1970 as the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is one of three academies that make up the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) in the United States. Operating under the 1863 Congressional charter of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academies are private, nonprofit institutions that work outside of government to provide objective advice on matters of science, technology, and health.
The Academy said Zaidi, president for gender equality and director of vaccine development and surveillance and of enteric and diarrheal diseases at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was elected “for global leadership in paediatric infectious disease research and capacity development relevant to improving newborn and child survival in developing countries.”
Since joining the foundation in 2014, Zaidi has led a team focused on vaccine development for people in the poorest parts of the world, surveillance to identify and address causes of death in children in the most under-served areas, and significantly reducing the adverse consequences of diarrheal and enteric infections on children’s health in low and middle-income countries, according to the Gates Foundation website.
“Through this role, Anita champions innovative work on behalf of low-income women and children, including the creation of the Women Leaders in Global Health program— now called WomenLift Health— to promote diversity in global health leadership. She also works closely with the foundation’s Maternal Newborn Child Health Discovery & Tools program,” it said.
Previously, Anita was the department chair of Pediatrics and Child Health at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, Pakistan, where she worked to reduce child mortality through the prevention and treatment of illness.
She obtained her medical degree specializing in pediatric infectious diseases at Aga Khan University, and completed further training at Duke University, Boston’s Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Harvard School of Public Health. To date, Anita has published more than 200 research papers on vaccine-preventable diseases and newborn infections in resource-limited settings.
In 2013, Anita became the first recipient of the $1 million Caplow Children’s Prize for her pioneering work bringing health services and wraparound care to mothers and children in poverty-stricken communities in Karachi. She was also nominated as a notable physician of the year in 2014 by Medscape.
“It is my privilege to welcome this extraordinary class of new members. Their contributions to health and medicine are unmatched – they’ve made groundbreaking discoveries, taken bold action against social inequities, and led the response to some of the greatest public health challenges of our time,” said National Academy of Medicine President Victor J. Dzau.
“This is also the NAM’s most diverse class of new members to date, composed of approximately 50 percent women and 50 percent racial and ethnic minorities. This class represents many identities and experiences – all of which are absolutely necessary to address the existential threats facing humanity. I look forward to working with all of our new members in the years ahead.”
The newly elected members bring NAM’s total membership to more than 2,200 and the number of international members to approximately 172.


Biden picks career diplomat for top posting in Pakistan 

Updated 46 min 12 sec ago

Biden picks career diplomat for top posting in Pakistan 

  • Donald Blome is currently US ambassador to Tunisia 
  • Pakistan is playing a major role in diplomacy with its Taliban-ruled neighbor

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden plans to nominate Donald Blome, currently ambassador to Tunisia, as his top diplomat in Pakistan as Washington works to manage the situation in neighboring Afghanistan following the withdrawal of American troops.
Biden on Tuesday will announce plans to nominate Blome to the job in Pakistan, the White House said. Blome is a career Foreign Service diplomat with long experience in the region who once worked in the Kabul embassy, shuttered earlier this year during the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Pakistan is playing a major role in diplomacy with its Taliban-ruled neighbor.
International agencies have warned that Afghanistan is on the verge of humanitarian collapse without access to aid or foreign reserves, which remain frozen in the United States.
Pakistan’s relationship with neighboring China has also been of interest to the Biden administration, which regards Beijing as its chief international rival.
Tunisia, where Blome has worked as ambassador since 2019, is an important diplomatic outpost for the United States in North Africa, representing interests beyond the country’s borders, including in neighboring Libya.

U.S. ambassador to Tunisia Donald Blome (L) pictured during his meeting with Tunisian Minister of Tourism Habib Ammar in Tunisia on February 17, 2021. (U.S. Embassy Tunis)

The ambassadorial position requires Senate confirmation.


FATF begins new plenary session, will determine Pakistan’s ‘grey list’ status

Updated 19 October 2021

FATF begins new plenary session, will determine Pakistan’s ‘grey list’ status

  • The watchdog put Pakistan on list of countries with inadequate terror funding and money laundering controls in June 2018
  • Outcome of the plenary to be announced on Thursday after meeting ends, Pakistan hopes for good news

ISLAMABAD: The Financial Action Task Force announced the beginning of its new plenary on Tuesday in which it will take up a number of issues and determine if Pakistan can be removed from a list of countries with strategic deficiencies in their financial system.
The global dirty money watchdog placed Pakistan on its “grey list” of countries in June 2018 since it found vulnerabilities in its financial system which could be exploited for terror financing and money laundering.
Pakistan has tried to address the FATF concerns by implementing the recommended action plan, and its progress has also been acknowledged by the international body.
“The Financial Action Task Force Plenary has started,” the FATF announced in a Twitter post. “Due to COVID-19 it is a hybrid meeting, with delegates from around the world meeting virtually and in person.”


According to a statement issued by the global watchdog, “the outcomes of the FATF Plenary will be published on Thursday 21 October, at the close of the meeting.”
The meeting, which is taking place under the German presidency of Dr. Marcus Pleyer, will also be observed by global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund.
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said earlier this year there was “no justification” for the FATF to keep his country on the grey list since it had taken extensive measures to curb money laundering and terror financing.
“We will have to see if the FATF is a technical forum or … being used for political purposes,” he added.
The global financial watchdog recently expressed satisfaction with Pakistan’s progress, though it also gave the country another action plan to fix a separate set of problems to strengthen the financial system further.

 


Pakistan, Russia, China willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

Updated 20 October 2021

Pakistan, Russia, China willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now
  • The United States did not join this round of talks in Moscow but said it planned to do so in the future

MOSCOW: Russia, China and Pakistan are willing to provide aid to Afghanistan, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday, but Moscow said it was not yet ready to recognize the Taliban government.
The promise of humanitarian aid and economic support came after talks between Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials, who will be joined by representatives of Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was withholding recognition from the Taliban while waiting for them to fulfil promises they made when they took power, including on the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government.
Critics say the former rebel movement is backtracking on pledges not to sideline women and minorities, or persecute foes.
“Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now,” Lavrov told reporters. “Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfil the promises they made when they came to power.”
RUSSIA SEEKS LEADERSHIP
In mid-August, the Afghan government collapsed as the United States and allies withdrew troops after 20 years on the ground, leading the Taliban to seize power in a lightning offensive.
Russia, which fought its own disastrous war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, is trying to seize the diplomatic initiative to avoid instability in the wider region that could damage its interests.
In particular it is worried by the possibility of Islamist militants seeping into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, a region Moscow views as a defensive buffer.
Other Russian officials have tempered expectations for Wednesday’s talks. The United States said it would not join this round but planned to do so in the future.
Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, said last week he did not expect any major breakthrough at the talks.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described them as “an attempt to know what will happen in Afghanistan going forward.”