The Technical Advisory Group (TAG) on polio eradication will meet in Islamabad this week to assess programme progress and discuss remaining obstacles and opportunities as Pakistan edges closer to achieving the goal to stop transmission of the virus in 2016.

Senior leaders from across the Global Polio Eradication Initiative will join Federal and Provincial team leads as they brief TAG members on the progress since the last meeting in January 2016 and will assess plans for the 2016/17 National Emergency Action Plan leading into the next low transmission season.

The Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) remains optimistic that the strategies driving the programme, particularly in the core reservoirs of the virus in Karachi, Khyber-Peshawar and Quetta Block and high risk areas of north Sindh and southern KP, are behind the reduction of cases, reduction of the persistently missed children, and significant decline in positive environmental samples.

During the January meeting TAG concluded that the goal of interruption of transmission is achievable, but was at risk unless there was further reduction in the immunity gaps especially in the core reservoirs. A number of critical recommendations were given including strengthening the focus on core reservoirs, identifying specific Action-Plans for poorly performing districts, using lessons learned from community based vaccination to improve performance in mobile team areas and more focused and sustained involvement of leadership, particularly from Deputy Commissioners.

TAG recommended further improvements to community surveillance and environmental surveillance would be ever important for the detection of transmission in the coming months.

Taking up the recommendations in the six months since TAG reviewed the programme, PEI says the ‘one team led by the Government’, working under the network of Emergency Operation Centres (EOC), and alongside a supportive global partnership at all levels has been an unprecedented and major factor behind the turnaround seen in 2015 and 2016.  As of June 2016, only 12 polio cases have surfaced, a 60 per cent reduction when compared to the same time in 2015.

Other strategies, like the expansion of community based vaccination and health camps has helped with enhancing community ownership of the programme interventions, while thousands of trained and dedicated frontline workers have ensured that 280 million children have received polio drops during nine campaigns conducted in the low transmission season. The successful campaigns of the inactivated polio vaccine in targeted high risk areas of Karachi, Khyber Peshawar and Quetta block helped in quick immunity boosting of approximately 3 million vulnerable children.

Despite the progress made, challenges remain in addressing programmatic gaps in the highest risk areas during the coming months. TAG members will hear that the National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP) for 2016/17 will focus on building on the progress made in the past year and addressing the programmatic and immunity gaps that remain in the most vulnerable areas of the country.