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

The award conferred by Global Chief of the World Health Organisation Dr Margaret Chan was handed over to the minister by the Regional head of World Health Organisation Dr. Ala Alwan. Dr Ala Alwan and Director of Centres for Disease Control USA Dr Tom Frieden currently on a visit to Pakistan met the Minister along with their delegation here Thursday.

While handling over the prestigious award to the minister, Dr Ala Alwan said WHO recognises 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 per cent. 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 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 minister informed the delegation that the 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 finalisation of a consensus National Action Plan for NCDs with continued support of WHO,” she added.

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.

The 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.