ISLAMABAD: Japan will extend financial assistance to Pakistan for procurement of 16 million doses of oral polio vaccine, sufficient to vaccinate over 14m children under the age of five in 10 mop-up campaigns during this year.

The campaigns are targeting the areas where the virus was last reported, where access to healthcare services is difficult or which are densely populated with poor sanitation and low levels of routine immunisation.

The officials of the Japanese government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) gathered at the Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) here on Tuesday. They signed an agreement of a 360m Japanese yen ($3m) grant to support interruption of wild polio virus in Pakistan.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, the prime minister’s focal person for polio eradication, said that the funds had come at a crucial time as the virus had been cornered in only three remaining sanctuaries -- the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi and the Quetta block.

“A determined focus on conducting high quality campaigns during the remainder of the low (virus transmission) season and finding every missed child is critical to ensure that the virus cannot survive and spread,” she said.

Ms Farooq acknowledged that Japan had consistently been helping children in Pakistan.

Junya Matsuura, the charge d’affaires of the Japanese embassy, said that his country’s commitment and strong partnership with Pakistan and Unicef would continue to ensure polio eradication in the country.

Dr Amer Sheikh, senior joint secretary of the ministry of NHS, said that Pakistan was one of the last two countries which were still facing the menace of polio.

“The government of Pakistan with the support of its partners and donors has been able to markedly reduce the incidence of polio,” he said. “However to completely eradicate polio, the country will require support from its bilateral and multilateral partners.”

Yasuhiro Tojo, chief representative of the JICA in Pakistan, said” “We hope that this grant will serve as a drive for the final phase of Pakistan’s fight against polio virus.”

“Pakistan today stands on the brink of eradicating polio, and there is every reason to hope that, within the next year, it will join other countries where transmission of the disease has been halted,” he added.

Pakistan is making significant progress in the fight against polio. Last year, it managed to the number of children paralysed by polio by 82 per cent. The number of new cases reported in the last year was 54 whereas the number stood at 306 in 2014.

Japan has been supporting the polio eradication initiative in Pakistan since 1996. It has provided about $153m to date for procurement of oral polio vaccine and inactivated polio vaccine and strengthening vaccine management and cold chain system.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2016