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Pakistani Polio Vaccination Team administering polio drops to children during "Anti-polio campaign" at a suburb of Lahore, Pakistan on October 24, 2014. The World Health Organization said that ten more polio cases have surfaced in Pakistan, bringing the number of new cases to 290, a record figure that authorities blame on attacks by insurgents targeting vaccination teams. (Photo by Rana Sajid Hussain / Pacific Press/Sipa USA)

Govt Yet To Approve Three-Year Polio Eradication Plan

Govt Yet To Approve Three-Year Polio Eradication Plan

NT REPORT

 The country’s health departments are struggling to arrange $311 million to cover the next three years (2016-18) of the polio eradication programme. In addition, donors are unwilling to support the programme without the approval of the programme’s project concept (PC-1).

The next three years of the polio eradication programme begin in January 2016. The health departments have already assured the international community that the polio virus would be eradicated in Pakistan by 2018. This would be a great step towards declaring the world ‘polio free’.

Government approval of a project would make it easier for donor agencies to invest. Moreover, in case of a loan, the responsibility to pay it back and conduct an audit falls on the government. Until the programme’s PC-1 has not been approved by the government, donors will not be able to support the polio programme.

A high-level donor coordination meeting on polio eradication was held in Islamabad on Tuesday. Representatives from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the government of Japan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), World Bank, Islamic Development Bank, USAID, Centre for Disease Control (USA), Rotary International, WHO, Unicef as well as the Chinese, Bahraini, Turkish and Australian embassies participated in the meeting.

A National Health Services (NHS) ministry official, who attended the meeting, said that $311 million were needed to run the programme over the next three years.

“We have been trying to arrange the maximum amount of funding from donor agencies and friendly countries so as not to burden the government of Pakistan, but due to the lack of attention from some government departments, it’s feared that the release of funds from donor agencies could be delayed,” he said.

“Of the total $311 million, the government only has to pay $100 million and the rest will be made up by donor agencies and friendly countries. And the $100 million from the government would be paid by the Islamic Development Bank as a loan. The government only has to return the actual amount, and the interest would be paid by the BMGF.”

The official added: “We have asked the government of Japan to donate $100 million, and the remaining $111 million will be paid by various donor organisations and countries. However, during Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from donor agencies said they cannot help if the government doesn’t take ownership of the polio programme.”

He said the PC-1 for the 2016-18 polio programme was submitted to the planning division at the end of August 2015, but its approval has been delayed “for one reason or another.”

He said the PC-1 was discussed at a pre-Central Development Working Party (CDWP) meeting on October 15, and that a National Economic Council (NEC) meeting in the first week of November will not take up the subject.

“We are not sure whether the NEC meeting will be held or delayed, or if the PC-1 will be approved at the meeting or not.” He added: “Donor agencies and countries who have shown an interest in the programme have clearly said they won’t support any programme without the government ownership.”

A press release issued on Tuesday also stated that the health departments were trying to convince the donors to invest without any fears, emphasising that transparency in the programme would be ensured.

According to the statement, health minister Saira Afzal Tarar said the uninterrupted flow of resources was critical for sustaining the polio eradication gains.

Speaking at the meeting, the prime minister’s focal person for polio eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said while the polio programme continued to seek support from partners in addressing the gap in resources, the resources belonged to the children of Pakistan.

A sharp decline in reported polio cases has been observed. The availability of adequate resources for 2016 is of pivotal importance for programme planning and to sustain critical activities, she added.

Health secretary Ayub Sheikh said the Polio Emergency PC-1 would be placed before the NEC in November.

The head of the Emergency Operation Centre for Polio, Dr Rana Safar said that the timely approval of the PC would be ensured in order to give government ownership to the programme.

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