Image Credit: WAM

ABU DHABI: Abdullah Khalifa Al Ghafli, the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme Director, has said that the programme succeeded in reducing the number of polio cases in Pakistan from 306 cases in 2014 to four cases in October 2018, a decrease of 98 per cent.

In an interview, Al Ghafli said the efforts aimed at eradicating polio in Pakistan are paying off with total eradication of the disease at hand. He pointed out that the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme, UAE-PAP, is in the implementation of the directives of President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, which reflects the policy aimed at supporting the global efforts to eradicate epidemics and viruses globally.

He added that the unstinted support by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, has contributed to ensuring the total eradication of the disease after benefiting more than 400 million people around the world.

“In 2013, Abu Dhabi had hosted the World Vaccine Summit in which His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed launched his initiative to eradicate poliomyelitis in the world and announced a donation of US$120 million to eradicate this disease. Within this framework, the wise leadership issued directives to establish the UAE Pakistan Assistance Programme by launching the UAE vaccination campaign against polio in Pakistan,” Al Ghafli said.

In 2014, the campaign targeted more than 13 areas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas region, which had the highest rate of poliomyelitis in Pakistan, and was suffering from a complete cessation of the vaccination campaigns in most areas due to security threats. The geographical coverage expanded in the past five years to include 83 areas in four provinces targeting 13.54 million Pakistani children a month.

He stressed that preparing for the campaign was not easy, and highlighted the responsibility of achieving the directives of the wise leadership to manage the UAE-Pakistan Assistance Programme in areas where national and international campaigns had failed to operate. It required difficult field studies and putting in place advanced and innovative plans to overcome challenges and field problems, the most difficult of which was bringing about a change in mindsets and beliefs in the community about vaccines.

He said that the name of the UAE and its leaders were trusted by different tribes, people and families who had benefited from the campaigns, and noted that security plans were made to cover all areas and ensure the safety of the teams conducting the vaccinations. They were supported by the Pakistani armed forces and the Pakistani police, as well as awareness campaigns before the start of monthly campaigns which had a positive effect on the community and convinced them to cooperate.

Al Ghafli spoke about the key challenges facing the campaign since it began, especially the negative ideas about the disease which they overcame due to the reputation of the UAE and its wise leadership, as well as the impact of the social awareness campaigns and the developments of the capacities of the vaccination teams in impacting the opinions of the targeted children’s parents.

He highlighted the support by influential figures to the vaccination teams who formed follow-up groups and supported the teams being prevented from reaching out to the children, as well as the use of schools and universities to hold awareness lectures about the disease and encouraging parents to cooperate with the vaccination campaigns.

Al Ghafli praised the efforts of the vaccination teams who he described as the “real warriors” and the cornerstone to the success of this project. He highlighted the implementation of a special strategy to develop their performance and increase the success of their efforts, that consisted of raising their monthly compensation and adjusting their training period.

The UAE Pakistan Assistance programme director noted that they implemented a community vaccination teams’ system, that consists of groups from the community or the area they are operating in and they know all the children in the region and are trusted by the community.

He highlighted the cessation of vaccination campaigns in 2018 in Afghanistan due to the security situation. There are more than 1.5 million children who have not been vaccinated as against a total 9.5 million, and they have learnt that a large percentage of these children who are in Pakistan on a daily basis which means the virus could reappear in Pakistan.

Al Ghafli elaborated that in this regard, the UAE upon the directives of H.H. Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs, initiated a coordination meeting in Abu Dhabi in March 2018 attended by the representatives of the WHO, ministries of health and administrations of the national campaigns in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in which they studied and coordinated the annual future plans of the vaccination campaigns on the strategic level, and exchanged information and daily monitoring indexes of the virus and plans of monitoring borders between the two countries.

He stressed that the campaign will continue to vaccinate Pakistani children in 2019 and 2020 in light of the UAE’s commitment with the declaration of the global conference that was held in Atlanta, United States, in 2017 to completely eradicate polio in the world.

The UAE-PAP director highlighted the vision and approach of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad in supporting the global efforts to eradicate polio, malaria and Guinea worm, and appreciated his initiatives and generous support in this regard.

Al Ghafli said that His Highness Shaikh Mohammad donated $167 million (Dh613.31 million) for the efforts aimed at eradicating poliomyelitis and the provision of vaccines for children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.

He highlighted the fact that H.H. Shaikh Mohamed’s support also included the people working in field vaccination groups as he directed that they be honoured with the polio eradication heroes award ceremony that was held in Abu Dhabi in December 2015 and was attended by Bill Gates the Co-Founder of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Shaikh Mohammad’s initiatives included the launch of the “Last Mile” Fund for the eradication of contagious diseases and the Mohammad Bin Zayed International Health Award to honour the heroes.

He highlighted the cooperation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in implementing and funding the UAE vaccination campaign and developing future plans of the campaign and the humanitarian partnerships between Shaikh Mohamed and Bill Gates in the field of providing health care and combating disease and epidemic.


UAE's inexhaustible river of giving keeps flowing, bringing polio to record low

By Mohamed Jalal Alrayssi, Executive Director, WAM news agency

Amid creepy smear media campaigns, futilely fabricated by some circles, one feels elated while realising that the world’s social conscience is still alive and that the immortal values of goodness and benevolence still exist in our volatile world.  One truly feels optimistic to see that there are still some people who are truly caring about genuine humanitarian causes despite the avalanche of challenges besetting our hectic and ever-changing world. People who are banking on their inexhaustible well of timeless religious and cultural values to extend hand of help to those in need across the globe.  Within this context, the World Polio Day emerges as a testament that the world’s social conscience is still alive!

The entire world will remain forever indebted to the colossal efforts tirelessly made by the UAE and its significant contributions to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Commendable efforts that have resulted in reducing the disease by 99 per cent in 30 years only. When the World Health Organisation launched  the anti-polio strategy in 1988, the global call fell on responsive ears in the UAE where the a solid foundation of giving and volunteerism was already established by late  Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan, God bless his soul. And the country has been sparing no efforts since then to fight the diseases in every part of the world.

As part of these efforts, which have been described as ‘giant’ by the United Nations, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, announced in 2011 an Emirati partnership with Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to work together and provide life-saving vaccinations to children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The partnership committed a total of $100 million for the purchase and delivery of vital vaccines to save children in Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan, and prevent the disease for a lifetime thanks to a well-thought-out strategy carried out by national Emirati cadres.

In addition, Abu Dhabi played a host to the Global Vaccine Summit  in 2013 in yet a fresh reflection of the UAE’s commitment to continue to serve as a meaningful facilitator of international humanitarian initiatives. Such invaluable efforts made by the country - estimated at an approximate total of $167 million, from which over 400 million children in different parts of the world have benefitted -  have fructified into reducing the global polio cases to a record low.

Shaikh Mohammad's noble initiatives lie at the heart of a comprehensive framework for philanthropy through strategies and programmes intended to celebrate the virtues of giving, well-being, and support for the needy - a strategy that has earned the UAE its current much-coveted and pioneering stature among world nations.