At the conclusion of its meeting in Islamabad today, the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) has appreciated the progress made in Pakistan over the past nine months on the way to achieving polio eradication.
The TAG recognized the progress made in the reduction of cases to an all-time low of five because of the high level of government commitment led by the Prime Minister, provincial leadership and support of the law enforcement agencies and security forces ensuring the safety of the hard working vaccination teams. It further commended Pakistan’s response to the recommendations from the last TAG in March this year, and endorsed the one-team-one-family approach of the Emergency Operation Centre teams working towards the goal of eradication.
The TAG also noted that transmission of the wild poliovirus persists in hotspots, core reservoirs of Karachi and across Northern Southern Corridors. For Pakistan to reach the goal of zero cases, the TAG urged 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 and act swiftly in response.
Provincial leadership of the programme presented TAG with a comprehensive picture of the epidemiological situation across the country, indicating the progress made in each province as well as the remaining gaps to end transmission of the poliovirus.
Presenting the findings and recommendations at the conclusion of the meeting, TAG Chair Jean Marc Olive said “the 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”.
The Prime Ministers Focal Point for Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq thanked members of the TAG as well as the provincial polio eradication teams for the detailed and constructive deliberations during the meetings.
“The key to interruption is 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”, said Senator Farooq.
Since the last TAG, the Pakistan Polio Eradication Initiative (PEI) has made considerable progress owing to the high commitment of the government and support at every level, strengthened programme performance and broad community acceptance of the polio vaccine. Consequently, case numbers have come the lowest they have ever been. The number of children paralyzed by the wild poliovirus has dropped from 306 in 2014 to 54 in 2015 to 20 in 2016 and only five so far in 2017 and the immunity gaps continue to decline. However, in pockets of the country, any unvaccinated children remains vulnerable.
The two-day meeting drew polio experts from lead implementation partners World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), leadership and teams from provinces across Pakistan, senior representatives from across the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and key donors.
“Polio eradication has given us the tools and is the beginning of our efforts to reach our most vulnerable children with equitable access to health care. The best way to honour the commitment of our Frontline Health Workers who come from the same underserved communities is to ensure that we finish the job and build a better future for their children”, concluded Senator Farooq.