UN chief pushes for concerted efforts to defeat polio

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to The Associated Press in Lahore, Pakistan, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Guterres said Tuesday that the coronavirus outbreak that began in China “is not out of control but it is a very dangerous situation.” Antonio Guterres said that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.” The outbreak has infected more than 73,000 people globally. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudhry)

LAHORE(Rahnuma): UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres reiterated the need for unified efforts to effectively eradicate polio from Pakistan, adding that the world needed to “join hands” to fight the menace.

“Together, we can eliminate polio from across the world, and I appeal to all the world leaders to join hands to fight out polio,” Guterres said in comments to the media on Tuesday after participating in an anti-polio drive at a private school in Lahore, the capital of the Punjab province.

The UN chief was accompanied by Punjab Health Minister Dr. Yasmeen Rashed, and a coterie of other officials. “He appreciated the federal and provincial governments’ efforts to curb this menace,” Dr. Rashed told Arab News.

Pakistan is one of just two countries in the world, besides Afghanistan, where cases of polio are still prevalent. Guterres said that eradicating polio from the world map was the UN’s first priority, before commending the government and frontline workers for ensuring that Pakistan was now a “safer country as compared to the past.”

“I express solidarity with the workers who laid their lives in the line of duty,” the UN chief said, paying homage to officials who were targeted and killed, following rumors that the immunization programs were harmful for children.

However, by hiring local workers who speak the same language and understand the nuances involved, the campaign has seen better acceptance.

According to the World Health Organization, the number of registered cases of polio stood at 20,000 a year in the early 1990s. That number has dropped down to seven reported cases from various provinces thus far in 2020.

For this year’s drive, more than 265,000 workers have been roped in for a door-to-door, nationwide campaign to ensure no child remains uninoculated.

The five-day initiative, which began on Monday, seeks to vaccinate 39.6 million children under the age of five years.

“It is the second day of the campaign and we are committed to make it a success. Nearly 95,000 polio workers are on the field, going to every house where a child below the age of five years resides,” Hanif Pitafi, Advisor to Punjab Chief Minister on Health, told Arab News.

The Punjab government, for its part, has issued directives to district deputy commissioners to monitor the process at various locations.

“We will leave no stone unturned to save the future of our children…We will achieve our target,” he added.

After participating in the polio drive, Guterres headed to the Kartarpur Corridor, a visa-free initiative launched by Pakistan which allows Sikhs from India and around the world to visit the final resting place of Guru Nanak who founded Sikhism five centuries ago.

“This is the best symbol that we can give for a world in peace and for a world (where) there is mutual respect and acceptance of what is different,” the UN Chief said on Tuesday.

Inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan last year, the four-kilometer Kartarpur Corridor connects the Sikh shrine of Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in India’s Punjab region to the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur, Pakistan. Some 5,000 Indian Sikhs are allowed entry on a daily basis.

“Recognizing the diversity is a blessing, is a richness of a threat which we see in so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion. It is necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine,” Guterres said, adding that his visit was “to pay tribute to the contribution of the Sikh community all over the world”.

The UN Chief arrived in Islamabad on Sunday as part of his four-day visit to the country to attend an international conference on Afghan refugees.

The event is being hosted by Pakistan to mark four decades since displacements began from neighboring Afghanistan, by residents seeking to escape a deadly conflict.

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