A senior UNICEF official said the polio programme in Pakistan was back on track and hoped that the crippling disease will be eradicated from the country by the end of 2023 following effective measures taken to check its spread.
Regional Director for South Asia George Laryea-Adjei in an exclusive interview with APP, said the current data suggested that virus was now under control in the country.
“We are using all available resources and services at our disposal to reach every girl and boy in Pakistan with lifesaving vaccines and protect them against the entirely preventable disease,” he said.
Appreciating efforts of over 350,000 health workers traveling to all parts of the country to administer doses of the vaccine to every child, he said, “the program is back on track to stop all wild polio virus transmission in 2023,”.
George Laryea-Adjei said Pakistan was in a much better position today to eradicate polio than a year ago. However, there were challenges that hampered the efforts to eliminate the virus completely.
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He expressed concern over the attack on polio and health workers in some parts of Pakistan and lauded the courage of polio teams.
He also appreciated efforts of polio eradication endeavors of the government recalling that Pakistan was the first country to launch an ambitious programme for training its health workers to support national immunisation programmes.
Highlighting the challenges, he said that the onslaught of back-to-back disasters – drought, heatwaves, floods and acts of violence – continued to put millions of children’s lives at risk in Pakistan.
He said the recent catastrophic floods destroyed vital health facilities and exacerbated health risks for millions of children, especially those living in districts historically at the highest risk for polio.
The UNICEF, Regional Director said, UNICEF had been working with the government, UN agencies and NGO partners from day one of the flood to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable children and families, in 54 of the 90 calamity hit districts.
In the health sector, he said 110 mobile health teams were providing critical health services to children, women, and adolescents and UNICEF was also assisting the national measles and rubella vaccination campaigns for children under the age of five in flood-affected districts.
Moreover, UNICEF was working for water, sanitation and hygiene in the flood-affected areas as well.
“We are delivering over two million litres of safe drinking water to the flood-affected communities,” he said.
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The UNICEF also built toilets and distributed hygiene and menstrual hygiene management kits, besides installing new taps and repairing critical water networks destroyed by the floods.
UNICEF established over 600 temporary learning centres to provide safe spaces for children to learn and play in the education centres, he said while highlighting his organisation’s endeavours.
Divulging details of the activities of UNICEF in northern Pakistan at the outset of winters, he said UNICEF procured 16,000 warm clothing kits for children up to 12 years of age which were being dispatched for distribution in snowbound areas of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces and Gilgit Baltistan region.
Moreover, around 15,000 blankets have been distributed in K-P and Balochistan provinces, he added.
Referring to impact of climate change, he said “The impact is profound throughout South Asia and in 2022 alone, climate-induced floods in Pakistan, Bangladesh, northern India, and Afghanistan left over 15 million boys and girls in need of assistance.”
He pointed that summers were getting hotter, glaciers melting, sea levels rising, and landslides sweeping away homes and schools.
The regional director said Pakistan was already a ‘climate hotspot’ before the current emergency broke out.
According to UNICEF’s Children’s Climate Risk Index, children in Pakistan were at ‘extremely high risk’ to the impacts of climate change, ranking 14th out of 163 countries and regions.
Since April, Pakistan has been hit by a series of extreme weather events. There was no spring this year, with the country going from winter directly into a scorching summer. Temperatures reached over 50 degrees Celsius in some areas of the country followed by catastrophic floods.
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He said these reoccurring and escalating climate catastrophes were directly threatening children lives and destroying infrastructure critical to their well-being.
First and foremost, global leaders must urgently limit global heating to 1.5 degree Celsius as this was the only way to save children’s life, he suggested.
“We must prepare children to live in climate changed world through climate change education and green skills training,” he added.
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