Iran`s proposal

GIVEN that pathogens do not recognise man-made borders, a regional approach to tackling pressing health issues is a sensible move. A visiting Iranian delegation comprising health ministry and medical education officials has expressed the desire to work closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan in disease control. It has proposed that health centres be set up on both sides of the border between the two countries to prevent the transfer of communicable diseases such as polio and malaria. It has also offered to provide the oral polio vaccine, which it produces locally, and train Pakistani community health workers and epidemiologists. Pakistan`s initial response to the suggestion has been positive, with the National Health Services minister saying that lessons could be learnt from Iran`s healthcare system and its polio eradication campaign. The proposal will need to be discussed with the Foreign Office and the government of Balochistan with which Iran shares a 900km border before any further steps are taken.

More than other diseases, polio is the main concern behind Iran`s proposal, and for good reason. In recent years, the increasing incidence of wild poliovirus in Pakistan has triggered alarm in the region and beyond. In 2014, the number of cases here reached 306, the highest since 1998. Iran`s excellent primary healthcare system reportedly accessible to 98pc of the population has been instrumental in the country being polio-free for well over a decade.

However, its close proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan which are among the three remaining polio-endemic countries in the world means that it must continually be on guard against the risk of polio importation. Cases in Pakistan so far this year are much less than that in the corresponding period of 2014, largely on account of mass vaccination campaigns of IDPs from Fata from where most of the cases originated earlier, but we cannot afford to be complacent. Iran`s experience in polio eradication makes its offer to help Pakistan in its own battle against the disease a win-win proposal.

Published in Dawn