Pakistan Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani on Saturday sought to blame an influx of Afghan refugees for persistence of polio in his country as Commonwealth leaders pledged to eradicate the crippling disease by announcing measures like a new 50-million-dollar funding.
Mr. Gilani made the remarks on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) here, while addressing a joint press conference with British Premier David Cameron, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Australian leader Julia Gillard.
Ms. Gillard announced a new funding of 50 million dollars over the next four years to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The funds would be used to help purchase vaccines, monitor outbreaks and respond when and where needed, she said.
Mr. Cameron mentioned that polio remains an endemic in three Commonwealth countries -- India, Nigeria and Pakistan.
He noted that India has not reported any fresh case of polio since January this year.
In his remarks, Mr. Gilani said that Pakistan was committed to eradicating polio by the end of this year.
He blamed the re-emergence of polio in Pakistan on the cross-border movement on its western frontiers and orthodoxy and fanaticism in the local tribes.
“There is a lot of cross border movement from Afghanistan to Pakistan and we are in the middle of a war. Because of the situation even doctors cannot reach those areas where the terrain is also difficult,” he said.
Replying to questions, Mr. Gilani highlighted the problem of 3.5 million Afghan refugees who crossed over to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and sought help of the global community in this regard.
“They should go back to Afghanistan,” he said.
Mr. Gilani said that his government was also taking help from religious leaders to spread awareness about polio eradication among the orthodox tribes.
Mr. Harper said that polio eradication was a key priority of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
He said 80 per cent of Afghanistan was polio free and the time had come “for a final push” to eradicate the debilitating disease.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates joined the leaders via video to announce a new USD 40 million contribution to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative on behalf of the Gates Foundation and in support of the Commonwealth commitments.
The Global Polio Eradication Initiative is a public-private partnership led by national governments in partnership with the World Health Organisation, Rotary International, the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations Children’s Fund, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.