ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani delegation returned after participating in a meeting of the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) for Polio held in the United Kingdom.

Though this time Pakistan had better cards to play with the record reduction in reported polio cases, the IMB was concerned over potential impact of the pre-election environment in the country and expressed the hope that the eradication of polio would remain the top public health priority of all political parties.

The board also expressed concerns over the movement of people across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border and the mobile population within Pakistan which could be major threats for the re-emergence of the poliovirus.

In a global scenario, the board was concerned about persistence of inaccessibility in Afghanistan and Nigeria which affected campaigns and effective quality assessment by monitors.

The IMB works on behalf of the international donor agencies and issues reports on the performance of countries after every six months.

In November 2012, it recommended that travel restrictions should be imposed on Pakistan. The recommendations were implemented on May 5, 2014. The detailed report of the meeting will be released after two to three weeks.

The members of Pakistani delegation included Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Ayesha Raza Farooq, Minister for National Health Services (NHS) Saira Afzal Tarar, representatives from all the provinces and the head of the Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) Dr Rana Safdar. The meeting was chaired by IBM Chairman Sir Liam Donaldson.

One of the members of the delegation, requesting not to be quoted, told Dawn that contrary to previous practice when all delegations, partners and donors used to sit together this time IMB held separate sessions with the partners, donors and delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.

“Extensive consultations with key technical institutions were also held to seek their assessment on the current situation. Overall the IMB felt that the world was closer to the polio eradication. It, however, was concerned about inaccessibility still persisting widely both in Afghanistan and Nigeria that affected campaigns and effective quality assessment by monitors. The international community was urged to play its best role,” he said.

In reply to a question, the delegate said though progress in high-risk core reservoirs of Karachi and Peshawar was acknowledged by the IMB the presence of the poliovirus in the environment of Quetta block was still a concern.

“Two cases reported from the low-risk districts of Lodhran and Diamer in 2017 were taken as an alert to ensure similar levels of vigilance and accountability across the country, especially on mobile populations including those moving across the borders. The board, however, was impressed of the programme’s strength and openness to identify and address gaps,” he said.

“The key message was to stay focused in the next three years. However, the IMB seemed concerned on potential impact of pre-election environment in the country and expressed the hope that polio would stay the top public health priority of all political parties,” he said.

An official of the ministry of NHS added that time had come to ensure that the federal and provincial governments concentrated on strengthening the routine immunisation.

“It will not only facilitate polio eradication but will also help in addressing mortality due to other vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, hepatitis, pneumonia, diphtheria and tetanus. As we have shown success in the field of polio there is a need to appoint competent and well-reputed public health professionals on leadership positions at the federal and provincial levels to bring changes to the EPI operations,” he said.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq told Dawn that Pakistan was in a better position because it had shown the best ever performance.

In the year 2014, as many as 306 polio cases were reported in the country and the number reduced to 54 in 2015. In 2016, there were 20 cases while so far in the current year only two cases have been reported.

“We have been collecting environment samples from 53 points across the country. In the past, the samples were collected every month but now we have started collecting them after every two weeks,” Ms Farooq said.

If a poliovirus is detected in a sample collected from sewage of any area, it is declared positive.

Ms Farooq said though areas such as Karachi and Peshawar, once declared as polio hubs, had been cleared the IMB suggested keeping the area in focus because they would remain high-risk areas due to the mobile population.

Published in Dawn, May 06th, 2017

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