ISLAMABAD: An eight-member delegation of the highest technical body on the polio eradication programme has suggested that Pakistan ensure effective implementation of the National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP).

The Technical Advisory Group (TAG), headed by Dr Jean Marc Olive, visited Pakistan and met different stakeholders and left on Saturday.

Dr Olive is the chairman of technical advisory groups for Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and Syria. TAG visits Pakistan twice a year and reviews progress and provides advice on the final road to eradicating the virus. Last time the group had visited Pakistan on March 31 and suggested an improvement to the routine immunisation system.

Technical Advisory Group says to reach goal of zero cases, number of children being missed during immunisation drives should be cut down

Coordinator for the National Emergency Operation Centre for Polio Eradication Dr Rana Mohammad Safdar told Dawn that Pakistan was near the finish line as this year only five polio cases had been reported. So it is necessary to take further guidelines from the group to achieve the target.

“TAG has suggested us to ensure effective implementation of NEAP which includes five national and four sub-national polio campaigns. Moreover, according to NEAP, if a poliovirus case is reported it should be taken very seriously and responded to by holding aggressive campaigns.”

He said another part of NEAP was special focus on the migrating population as the poliovirus moved from one area to another along with the people.

A large number of people migrate across the country because of businesses, jobs and due to changing weathers. So they need to be checked and focused during the polio campaigns. Creating awareness among the citizens is also a part of the plan, he said.

Dr Safdar said TAG had also suggested focusing the Karachi block as poliovirus was found in environmental samples there.

“Another thing which remained under discussion was that the virus can shift from Afghanistan to Quetta and Fata blocks because eight polio cases have been reported in Kandahar and Helmand which are adjacent to Quetta and three cases reported from the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan which is adjacent to Fata,” he said.

“In Afghanistan, polio campaigns are not held because of security reasons so we need to ensure that in case the virus travels to Pakistan children are not infected here,” he said.

According to an official statement, TAG recognised the progress made in the reduction of polio cases. It also noted that the transmission of the wild poliovirus persisted in hotspots, core reservoirs of Karachi and across the northern and southern corridors.

For Pakistan to reach the goal of zero cases, TAG called for continued focus on improving the overall performance and decreasing the number of children being missed in the core reservoir areas and to identify and address the residual risks.

Presenting the findings and recommendations at the conclusion of the meeting, Mr Olive said: “TAG has reviewed the latest epidemiology and programme performance thoroughly. At this critical juncture, the outcome of TAG will help spotlight the remaining gaps and advise Pakistan’s programme on improving the planning and implementation of its National Emergency Action Plan.”

Prime Minister’s Focal person on Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said the key to interruption was for the programme to be fully aware of the remaining challenges and obstacles we need to overcome. Pakistan’s commitment is steadfast as witnessed by the substantial progress made this year.

“Built on a solid foundation of overwhelming political commitment and support, we remain on track to interrupt transmission.”

It may be noted that the number of children paralysed by the wild poliovirus dropped from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015 to 20 in 2016 and only five so far in 2017. Besides, the immunity gaps also continue to decline. However, in pockets of the country, any unvaccinated children remain vulnerable.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2017


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