THE first-ever visit of Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to Pakistan on Thursday was, indeed, a landmark event as it highlighted international cooperation in the elimination of Polio and serious efforts being made by Pakistan to make the country polio-free.
He had detailed discussions with President Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Faisal Sultan where the two sides expressed their resolve to strengthen collaboration to take the anti-polio campaign to the finish.
President Dr Arif Alvi conferred the Hilal-i-Pakistan award on Gates during a special investiture ceremony in Islamabad in “recognition of his support for poverty alleviation and healthcare”.
Pakistan and Afghanistan are the only two countries of the world where polio continues to circulate despite sustained campaigns by health authorities in Pakistan.
In fact, success of the drive in the two countries is inter-linked in view of geographical proximity and almost free for all people-to-people contacts/cross-border movement.
Apart from some pockets in Pakistan, there is also resistance to administration of polio drops in many areas of neighbouring Afghanistan but establishment of an effective central government in that country offers prospects for realization of the goal of rooting out polio from there.
The close linkage of the two countries is also evident from the fact that no children have been paralyzed by wild polio in Pakistan in more than a year, according to the Gates Foundation, but the virus was detected in December in sewerage samples in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where cross-border movement is a daily routine.
It was in this backdrop that Prime Minister Imran Khan not only discussed with the visitors issues relating to polio eradication in the two countries but also the need for the international community to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the war-torn country.
The success of the polio eradication campaign depends much on the peace, security and stability of Afghanistan, a goal that can be achieved if hands of the Taliban government are strengthened in running affairs of the country smoothly.
The idea of a synchronized campaign in the two countries is workable but again much depends on the ground situation in Afghanistan.
While the Pakistan Government is doing whatever is possible including provision of security to medical teams assigned the task of administering polio drops to children, the security situation in major parts of Afghanistan is still not satisfactory for free movement of such teams.
People of Pakistan are grateful to Bill Gates Foundation for its timely cooperation not just in the anti-polio campaign but also in efforts to combat the Covid-19.
During the day long trip, Gates also visited NCOC where he was informed about the NCOC’s role and methodology, its achievements since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the coronavirus situation in Pakistan as well as the non-pharmaceutical interventions by the forum to control the spread of the disease.
Gates took keen interest in various initiatives by NCOC, particularly smart lockdown and micro-smart lockdown strategy enforcement measures and Pakistan’s vaccine administration regime which enabled NCOC to formulate and implement a comprehensive Covid response.
This was yet another acknowledgement of the sagacious policy adopted by the Government of Pakistan in dealing with the situation created by Covid-19.
The cooperation extended by Mr.Bill Gates as a philanthropist is appreciable but it is somewhat unfortunate that Pakistan could not benefit properly from technological excellence of his Microsoft Corporation.
There are reasons to believe that most of the economic and financial woes of Pakistan can be addressed by exploiting the optimum potential of the country in the IT sector and the Microsoft Corporation can definitely help accelerate the process.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly declared to bring about an IT revolution in the country and has taken a number of initiatives to realize this cherished objective but there is a need to engage Microsoft meaningfully for the purpose.
Way back in 1999, a three member delegation of the company, during its meeting with the then Prime Minister, expressed readiness to start operations in Pakistan with the objective of fostering a dynamic and thriving information technology industry in the country.
The company, no doubt, has a presence in Pakistan but we have not been able to engage it in a comprehensive manner despite the fact that Pakistan is a market with huge potential.
The IT ministry should look into the matter and do its homework well to tap this potential with the active collaboration of the Microsoft Corporation.