Oman free of polio, but watchful


Dr Ali Al Hinai, Undersecretary of Planning Affairs, Ministry of Health, centre, at a press conference of the 60th session of Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean of the WHO in Muscat, Monday. Photo - Times of Oman

Muscat: The World Health Organisation's (WHO) global polio eradication programme for children, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean region, would benefit from the five million dollar fund given by His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, said Dr Ali Al Hinai, Undersecretary of Planning Affairs, Ministry of Health.

Addressing a press conference Monday on the sidelines of the 60th session of Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean of the WHO, which is underway in the city, Ali Al Hinai said that since 1994, no polio case was reported in Oman. "Though our country is completely free of polio, yet we need to be careful as there were recent cases of re-emergence of polio virus in some of the countries of the region," he said.

Welcoming Dr Abdullah bin Saleh Al Saedi, WHO's representative in the Sultanate, he said the announcement that the Sultanate would contribute $5 million towards the polio eradication fund was a great gesture and the programme needed it.

Earlier in the day, Dr Ala Alwan, regional director of WHO Eastern Mediterranean region, said that polio remained a serious issue. "While we have seen a substantial decline in the number of cases in 2013 in two of the remaining three endemic countries, Afghanistan and Nigeria, compared to 2012, such a substantial level of decline has still not been seen in Pakistan," he said. Alwan expressed concern that there were polio-infected pockets in Pakistan and Somalia, and in certain areas of some countries where vaccinators have not been able to reach children for a long time.

This poses an increasingly threatening situation for global health, he said while adding that this month, polio re-emerged in Syria which had been polio-free for so many years.

In August this year, polio virus of Pakistan origin was detected in environmental samples in the West Bank and Gaza, and prior to this, in Egypt. The continued existence of the virus in the three endemic countries and the recent outbreak in Somalia are threatening other polio-free member states, he said.

He noted that the eradication of polio globally was a huge challenge. "We continue to operate in an emergency mode when it comes to issues of global public health, and all member states must remain on a high alert."

The WHO's paper, issued in July this year, on financial resource requirements 2013-2018 for global polio eradication initiative, also known as GPEI, says the WHO's budget for the Polio Eradication and Endgame Strategic Plan was  $5.5 billion.  

The major categories  are: immunisation; surveillance and response capacity; containment and certification; and core functions and infrastructure.

During the meeting, the WHO and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) called for an initiative to increase access to HIV treatment in the Eastern Mediterranean, and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) regions. This was also one of the issues taken up for discussion during the three-day WHO Regional Committee for the Eastern Mediterranean region.

HIV testing
The WHO and UNAIDS are jointly campaigning for a new initiative to accelerate HIV testing treatment coverage in a region where only 15 per cent of the estimated people in need of treatment are receiving it, making it a region with the lowest HIV treatment coverage in the world, according to Yamina Chakkar, director of UNAIDS-Regional Support Team for the
MENA region.

An advocacy document titled 'Accelerating HIV treatment in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean and UNAIDS Middle East and North Africa regions' was also launched at the meeting.

"The treatment crisis in the region is reversible. We are eager to join forces with our partners and with regional leaders to renew the commitment and bring HIV testing treatment services to the people who need them," said Chakkar.

The region is one of the two in the world where new HIV infections are still on the rise.

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