Tag Archives: United Nations

Polio eradication a UN priority, says Guterres in Pakistan visit

18 February 2020

In one of the last bastions of polio on the planet, millions of children are being given a fighting chance against the paralyzing and potentially fatal disease. 

During his first official visit to Pakistan as UN Secretary-General, António Guterres stopped at a kindergarten in Lahore on Tuesday, as the country kicked off its initial nationwide polio campaign for the year.

While there is no cure for polio, vaccination can protect a child for life, and the campaign this month aims to reach more than 39 million children.

“Polio is one of the few diseases we can eradicate in the world in the next few years. This is a priority of the United Nations and I am extremely happy to see it is a clear priority for the Government of Pakistan,” said Mr. Guterres.

“My appeal to all leaders, religious leaders, community leaders, is to fully support the Government of Pakistan and other governments around the world to make sure that we will be able to fully eradicate polio.”

Misconceptions and mistrust

Along with Afghanistan, Pakistan is the only place in the world with wild poliovirus transmission, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Last year, the country saw a resurgence of polio, with 144 cases; up from 12 in 2018.  So far this year, there have been 17.

In Pakistan, nearly one-third of children aged 12 to 23 months miss out on basic vaccines, either because they live in hard-to-reach areas, or due to misconceptions about the importance of immunization.

Veteran vaccinator Farzana Shakeel has been pelted with stones, shouted at, and even threatened during anti-polio vaccination campaigns in Karachi.

“To this day, many people in my community think that vaccines are a conspiracy to prevent them from having more children, or to harm them in some way,” she said.

Going-door-to-door to save lives

While at the kindergarten, the UN chief vaccinated three children against polio.

He also met with frontline workers from the Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme, a 265,000-strong force that goes door-to-door during vaccination campaigns to ensure as many children as possible are protected against the disease.

The UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, which manages the procurement and distribution of over 1 billion doses of polio vaccines worldwide each year, supports the programme in Pakistan, including through leading in vaccine supply and strengthening partnerships with local communities to build trust in vaccines.

UNICEF/Asad Zaidi | A health worker vaccinates a 4-year-old girl against polio at the door of her house in Bhatti gate area of Lahore Punjab Province, Pakistan.

More than 60 per cent of the programme’s workers are women, and they are critical to rallying support from parents, caregivers and communities.

Vaccination points also are set up at railway stations, bus stops and other transit points nationwide, targeting children who are travelling or on the move, with some 1.7 million vaccinated in 2018.

Immunization activities and other measures are further coordinated with a similar programme in neighbouring Afghanistan, given the frequent population movements between the two countries.

Pakistan’s polio eradication programme currently is re-strategizing its operations and approach to better respond to increased transmission of the virus, according to the WHO Representative in the country.

Dr. Palitha Malipala said this includes incorporating high-level commitment to polio eradication across the political sector and ensuring that health workers are not targeted.

“We will continue to support the Government of Pakistan, who spearhead this initiative in country, to overcome the challenges of the last year and put in place robust measures to ensure a polio-free world for future generations,” he said.

Pakistan-India crossing is a ‘Corridor of Hope’, UN chief says, wraps up visit with call for interfaith dialogue

18 February 2020

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday said he had been moved by the show of religious unity he had witnessed in Pakistan after paying visits to a mosque, a gurdwara and Kartarpur Corridor, the visa-free crossing which allows Sikhs to travel between nearby holy sites on each side of the India-Pakistan border.

“This is a very emotional moment. It is wonderful to see interfaith dialogue” said the Secretary-General, on the last leg of his three-day visit to Pakistan, where, since Sunday, he has pressed for climate action, and praised Pakistan’s compassion for hosting Afghan refugees, as well as the South Asian country’s major contributions to UN peacekeeping.

Speaking to the media at the town of Katarpur his stop at the Corridor, the UN chief said: “It is wonderful to see in the same shrine today Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, maybe Hindus — all worshipping in harmony and in peace”.

Kartarpur is a town located in the province of Punjab (Pakistan) on the right bank of Ravi River. It is said to have been founded by the first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak in 1504 AD, where he established the first commune. The name means “place of God”.

To facilitate visa-free access to Indian Sikh pilgrims, Kartarpur Corridor was  established in September 2018.

This so-called “Corridor of Peace” was inaugurated on 9 November 2019 on the eve of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. The Corridor links Gurdwara Kartarpur Saheb with Gurdwra Dera Baba Nanak, across the border in India.

Echoing this sentiment of  religious unity and tolerance, Mr. Guterres called the Kartarpur Corridor a “corridor of hope.” He also visited a gurdwara, or Sikh Temple, and the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, he added: “When we see so many parts of the world fighting in the name of religion, it’s necessary to say that religions unite us for peace and the best symbol is this shrine”.

‘Diversity is a blessing not a threat’

The Secretary General has long advocated the importance of interreligious dialogue and interfaith harmony achieve peaceful societies.

“This is the best symbol that we can give for a world in peace and for a world in which there is mutual respect and there is the acceptance of what is different” Mr. Guterres told reporters today, stressing that “diversity is a blessing, a richness, not a threat”.

The Secretary General took the opportunity to pay tribute to the contribution of the Sikh community the world over: “I’m a Christian, but I feel very much at home when I am in a Sikh shrine and where I can pray to God here together with the Sikh community.”

UN Photo/Mark Garten | UN Secretary-General António Guterres (centre) meets religious leaders at Badshahi Mosque in Lahore in Punjab province in Pakistan.

UN committed in helping Pakistan to eradicate Polio

Earlier in the day, the Secretary-General visited kindergarten in Lahore where he participated in the first nationwide polio campaign of the year, highlighting the importance of eradicating polio from the country.

At the school, he met Dr. Yasmin Raashiv, Minister of Health for the Punjab Province, along with several health workers. While there, the UN chief appealed to all leaders, including religious and community leaders, to fully support the Government of Pakistan, and other governments around the world, in making sure that polio can one day be fully eradicated.

He also administrated polio drops to three students.

Pakistan, with the help of international agencies and donors, has made strides in the eradication of polio. However, 110 reported cases since January 2019 have caused concerns.

Mr. Guterres later tweeted: “Important gains have been made, but we need a concerted push to eradicate this awful disease.”

UN News/May Yaacoub | UN Secretary-General António Guterres administers the polio vaccine to a kindergarten student on his visit to Lahore, Pakistan, as part of a nationwide vaccination campaign.

UN 75 Dialogue in Lahore

Among his other activities today was a lively discussion with the students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

There, he highlighted the importance of the UN 75 dialogues that will be taking place over teh coming year, noting that for the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary, he wanted to reach out and hear from youth.

From January 2020, the UN75 campaign will initiate the dialogues in all settings – from classrooms to boardrooms, parliaments to village halls. The aim is to reach as many people as possible: to listen to their hopes and fears; and learn from their ideas and experiences. Anyone can join the global conversation – physically or online, individually or as a group, in every region of the world.

Mr. Guterres stressed that over the next year, the UN wants to make the voices of young people “count in the ways decisions are made , in which strategies are established, policies are defined and actions are implemented.”

He also stated that the aim is not merely a dialogue during the Organization’s anniversary year, but “to establish within the UN mechanisms of institutional dialogue and institutional participation allowing the youth to have an influence in the way the UN shapes its interventions, decisions and strategies”.

“And why is it so important that young people effectively participate in the way we shape decisions today? The main reason for me is because my generation has failed in many aspects, but they failed essentially, in three basic questions that will determine the future,” said Mr. Guterres, citing failures on climate change, on making globalization work for all, and in making sure that new technologies are a force for good.

Finally, he said: “I believe that the youth must have a fundamental voice, but not only a fundamental voice, a fundamental role in the shaping of our common future. And I want to make the UN75 anniversary the moment in which I will try to talk as little as possible and to listen as much as possible.”

The Secretary-General wrapped up his time at the university by listening to the gathered students and exchanging views with them on issues such as human rights and climate change, and also about the important role of the UN.

The United Nations Secretary-General will be visiting Pakistan next week

New York/Islamabad, 10 February 2020: We are pleased to announce that the United Nations Secretary-General will be visiting Pakistan next week, where he will speak at the International Conference on 40 Years of Hosting Afghan Refugees in Pakistan, which is being organized by the Government of Pakistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  He will also hold meetings with high-level Pakistani officials.

The Secretary-General will arrive in Islamabad on Sunday, and he will hold bilateral meetings with the Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Hussain Qureshi that day and speak at an event on sustainable development and climate change.

On Monday, the Secretary-General will speak at the International Conference, along with High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, and will participate in a high-level panel discussion and other events at that conference.  The Secretary-General, the High Commissioner and the Foreign Minister will also speak to the press. The Secretary-General will also meet with the President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, on Monday.

The Secretary-General will be in Lahore on Tuesday, where he will meet with students and attend an event on Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign.

He will also travel to Kartarpur to visit a holy site, Gurdwara Kartarpur Sahib. The Secretary-General will return to New York on Wednesday the 19th.