ISLAMABAD: The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has approved financing of $90 million to assist the polio eradication programme in Pakistan during 2016-18.

During a meeting at its Jeddah-based headquarters, the board of executive directors of IDB reviewed progress of the programme and approved the funding.

The IDB had pledged to provide a $227m loan to allow the country to run disease eradication programmes through 2015.

Last year, Pakistan accounted for 80 per cent of all wild poliovirus cases worldwide, said a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) submitted to its executive board last month.

The report says that vaccination gaps remain in Peshawar, Khyber Agency and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas; Karachi and northern Sindh; and areas of Balochistan.

With only Afghanistan and Pakistan remaining endemic for poliomyelitis, wild poliovirus transmission is at the lowest levels in history, with the fewest reported cases from the fewest affected countries, WHO says. Nigeria has already been removed from the list of polio endemic countries.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative says that both Pakistan and Afghanistan will have to redouble their efforts to stop transmission.

In order to stop all types of poliovirus and boost children’s immunity against the disease this year, there will be a globally synchronised switch from the trivalent to bivalent oral polio vaccine, it says.

Meanwhile, the director of the WHO office for Eastern Mediterranean Region which covers Pakistan, said in his annual report that polio eradication in the region, and globally, is now within reach.

Dr Ala Alwan urged all regional countries to ensure the highest possible levels of immunisation and surveillance until global eradication is achieved and certified.

WHO has intensified in the region its support to affected countries in the final push to eradicate polio.

Recently, the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on immunisation confirmed its recommendation that the withdrawal of oral polio vaccines containing the type 2 component should occur between April 17 and May 1 this year in all countries that are using trivalent oral polio vaccine through a globally coordinated replacement of the vaccine by the bivalent oral polio vaccine.

The group also reaffirmed that, in preparation for this global event, it is crucial that countries meet established deadlines to identify facilities holding wild or vaccine-derived type 2 poliovirus, destroy all type 2 poliovirus materials and, only where necessary, appropriately contain type 2 poliovirus in essential poliovirus facilities.

The Polio Oversight Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative reviewed the progress made and concluded that wild poliovirus transmission is more likely to be interrupted in 2016 than in 2015. The delay shifts the target date for certification of global polio eradication to 2019 and increases the cost of completing polio eradication by $1500m.

In Pakistan, a national polio emergency action plan is being overseen directly by the office of the prime minister. Emergency operation centres at federal and provincial levels ensure almost real-time monitoring of activities, implementation of corrective action and increased accountability and ownership at all levels.

Most importantly, the national plan focuses on identifying chronically missed children and reasons why they are missed, and implementing area-specific approaches to overcome these challenges. As a result, innovations are being developed, operational deficits in the programme are being increasingly redressed, and access continues to improve in previously inaccessible areas.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2016

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