Health Minister Receives Top WHO Award for Tobacco Control

June 11, 2015

Islamabad, June, 11, 2015 :-    Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar was conferred the top WHO award in recognition of her leadership to Tobacco Control initiative.


The award conferred by Global Chief of the World Health Organization Dr. Margaret Chan was handed over to the Minister by the Regional head of World Health Organization Dr. Ala Alwan.


Dr. Ala Alwan and Director of Centers for Disease Control USA Dr. Tom Frieden currently on a visit to Pakistan met the Minister alongwith their delegation here today.


While handling over the prestigious award to the Minister, Dr. Ala Alwan said WHO recognizes the outstanding leadership of the Pakistan’s Minister for Health Saira Afzal Tarar in taking forward tobacco control by announcing enhancement of size of pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs to 85 percent. The initiative makes Pakistan only the second country in the world to introduce such a measure for public awareness and to dissuade smokers and non-smokers from use of tobacco which is a major cause of preventable deaths in the country.     


Later delegation level meeting was held between the Minister and the two visiting dignitaries. The meeting was attended by the Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, PM’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication, senior officials of Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination and international partner agencies.  


The Minister on the occasion shared with the delegation that the Polio Eradication Initiative enjoys the highest level of Government commitment and  ownership at all levels driven by a strong Political will and national consensus to root out the disease.


“The Government of Pakistan is working to ensure availability of high quality maternal, newborn and child health services to all, especially for the poor and the disadvantaged and a ten point national vision for coordinated priority actions to address challenges of reproductive, maternal, newborn, child health and nutrition has been commissioned on the directives of Prime Minister” the Minister said.


The Minister informed the delegation that Ministry is addressing the issue of increasing  disease burden of non-communicable diseases with appropriate strategies. An NCDs unit is fully functional in the Ministry and we are heading towards finalization of a consensus National Action Plan for NCDs with continued support of WHO.


She said tobacco kills 108,000 Pakistani annually and 1200 Pakistani children between the age of 6 and 15 begin smoking everyday, which is an alarming situation. This Ministry is taking every possible step to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use by implementing the framework conventions on tobacco control to which the country is signatory. 


Minister appreciated the WHO EMR initiative of assessment of “Essential Public Health Functions” in the region and requested WHO to provide technical assistance in conducting an assessment of essential public health functions in the country.


Acknowledging the visit of Director CDC Dr. Tom Frieden, the Minister said that we have a strong partnership with CDC in the area of disease control and surveillance and this visit will provides new impetus to our existing collaboration


The Minister requested the Head of CDC to support in establishing a world class Disease Prevention and Control Centre at National Institute of Health Islamabad modeled on Centers for Disease Control with laboratory and disease surveillance network down to the district level.  


Speaking on the occasion, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said Pakistan has come a long way since the explosive outbreak of 2014 and much has been done to change the complexion of the polio eradication drive in the country. 


“We have been encouraged by the recognition of the turn-around in Pakistan by the IMB and recently concluded Technical Advisory Group meeting. The guidance of Chairman of the Polio Oversight Board would be of critical importance as we move forward and micro-target areas of concern” she said.


Senator Ayesha emphasized the importance of utilizing the current opportunity to synergize the efforts of Polio Eradication Initiative to Routine Immunization. “We have decided to use the Polio Emergency infrastructure to monitor routine coverage” she said.


Dr. Ala Alwan reiterated his commitment to working closely with Pakistan in the areas of Public Health and Health Emergency. He said the upcoming assessment of public health functions supported by WHO was a critical initiative.  


Director CDC Dr. Tom Frieden expressed the support of his organization towards strengthening disease control in the country. He said his organization was willing to work closely and strengthen partnership with Pakistan to improve health indicators through a strengthened disease surveillance and response system.


Representatives of Bill Gates Foundation and UNICEF also spoke on the occasion.