Bill Gates has acknowledged the support of the Pakistan Army in his mission to eradicate polio from Pakistan. Gates made a phone call to Army Chief General Bajwa to commend the efforts of the Pakistan Army in nearly eliminating polio from Pakistan.
General Bajwa responded by lauding Gates for his “noble cause,” while assuring the billionaire philanthropist that the Pakistan Army will continue in its efforts.
Major General Asif Ghafoor, official spokesperson for the Pakistan Army, tweeted out in response:
Bill Gates called COAS. Acknowledged supporting efforts by Pakistan Army for successfully eradicating Polio from Pakistan. COAS appreciated his efforts towards this noble cause and assured him continued full cooperation in best interest of Pakistan.@BillGates #PolioFreePakistan
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) June 7, 2018
Bill Gates Philanthropy
One of the chief concerns of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic institution founded by Bill Gates and his wife, is the eradication of infectious diseases that disproportionately impact impoverished communities. Eradicating polio, a highly infectious disease that often spreads through contaminated water, has been a major goal. Polio causes flu like illness and eventually full body paralysis.
In 1988 polio was active in 125 countries. Immunization efforts led by international organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have decreased that number by 99%. After India successfully eliminated the disease in 2011, polio is only present in three countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nigeria. Only 40 cases of polio were reported in 2016, a disease which formerly infected more than 1,000 children a day. However, if vaccination efforts dwindle, any country could experience an outbreak, especially those with poor water sanitation.
Earlier this year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pledged increased funding to Pakistan, hoping to reach their goals. The announcement came just a few days after President Trump announced the US would be cutting aid to Pakistan. The aid from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will address polio, as well as other concerns, including maternal health. Bill Gates has claimed the timing of the funding was coincidental.
Polio in Pakistan
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been working tirelessly to eradicate polio from Pakistan. Along with establishing emergency operation centers in Pakistan and providing funding to vaccine research, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has also developed technology to produce maps that allow Pakistan to pinpoint areas that need a vaccination campaign.
Their work has been hindered by security risks that prevent doctors from reaching the most vulnerable people. The cost of the vaccination campaign is also extraordinarily high, up to $1 billion a year. Experts also worry that porous borders with Afghanistan could present difficulties in preventing the spread of polio.
Due to the security risks the philanthropists have had to rely on the assistance of the Pakistan Army to reach their goals in South Asia. The assistance of the Pakistan Army allowed vaccination efforts to reach 500,000 previously unreachable children in North Waziristan. In May 2018, 20 million children were vaccinated for polio in Pakistan. Vaccinations can be administered through a shot or a pill.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, together with the Pakistan Army, has been successful in eradicating polio from large portions of Pakistan. There remains three main pockets where vaccination campaigns have not been completed: the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi, and the Quetta block. Bill Gates has expressed optimism that they will be able to eliminate polio from these remaining areas soon.
Terrorists Prevent Vaccination
The Federally Administered Tribal Areas has also remained unvaccinated, presenting a serious threat to the dream of a polio free Pakistan. In the past, the Taliban and other terrorist groups have launched campaigns against polio vaccination workers and camps. This March, militants ambushed a polio vaccination team working in the Tribal Areas. Two of the medical workers were killed while another two sustained serious injuries. The threat of terror attacks makes it even more difficult and expensive to recruit aid workers in Pakistan.
Militants have attempted to halt vaccination attempts, not just through terror attacks, but also through a campaign of misinformation. Militants and clerics have told locals the immunization attempts are part of an anti-Muslim campaign. They claim the vaccines will infect or sterilize children.
Since it was revealed that the CIA used a polio vaccination campaign to gain information on Osama bin Laden, vaccination campaigns have come under increasing attack. Militants point to the revelation as proof that the vaccinations are a part of an anti-Muslim agenda led by the US.
This week also saw increased concerns for an impending water crisis in Pakistan. It had been revealed that available water has been decreasing, while water storage capabilities have not yet increase. Pakistan could potentially run out of water by 2025.
More than 80% of water in Pakistan is unsafe for human use, forcing 16 million people to use unsafe water. As water becomes more scarce in Pakistan, this number may increase. Pakistan is currently in the top 10 of countries with the most people living without access to clean water.
Polio is primarily transmitted through unclean water, specifically water contaminated with fecal matter. Water contaminated with fecal matter is relatively common in areas of Pakistan where pipes are often leaky and people defecate in public. According to WaterAid, Pakistan ranks ninth in the world for countries with the most people defecating in the open.
Children are the primary risk for polio. In Pakistan, one in three schools does not have access to safe drinking water, while two out of every five schools in missing a toilet. Pakistan’s rapid population growth is also putting great stress on the water system and presenting new challenges to vaccination campaigns.
The potential for an upcoming water shortage, forcing people to drink, clean, and cook with contaminated water, has only underscored the importance of carrying out the remaining polio vaccination campaigns. 80% of disease is Pakistan is already caused by unsafe drinking water, while 40% of deaths can be attributed to the water crisis. When water shortages occur, there is usually an increase in the prevalence of water-borne disease and preventable death.