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International board lauds Pakistan’s anti-polio efforts

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  • 20 Polio cases in 2016 were lowest ever recorded

The International Monitoring Board (IMB) for Global Polio Eradication in its meeting at the College of Physicians, London, commended Pakistan Polio Eradication Programme for its positive progress.

Appreciating the commitment of the political and administrative leadership, the board assessed all time low virus transmission intensity as a unique opportunity to rid the world of the crippling disease forever.

The Independent Monitoring Board comprises of top global experts on polio. Led by the Minister for National Health Services Saira Afzal Tarar, Pakistan’s delegation to the meeting included Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication, Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar; national coordinator, Baluchistan chief secretary, FATA additional chief secretary and health secretaries of Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Last year the IMB had recognised transformative improvements in the performance of the Pakistan polio eradication programme brought about by the dynamic network of Emergency Operations Centres and urged Pakistan to maintain the momentum.

Addressing the board, Saira Afzal Tarar said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had declared polio eradication as one of the top priorities in the health sector in Pakistan intractably linked to Sustainable Development Goals and the ‘National Health Vision 2025’.

A performance culture has been consolidated around a drive for results and urgency. Our collective efforts have been to ensure the key foundations of the programme are built on solid structures, like the importance of the vaccinator – female, local to the Mohalla, well trained and well supervised; ensuring good micro-planning across the board and a high investment in risk management.

20 Polio cases in 2016 are lowest ever recorded and the current case count of 2 compares to 11 during the same time period in 2016. Last cases from core reservoirs of Karachi and Khyber-Peshawar were seen in early 2016 and since September 2016, outbreaks in the tier 4 districts of Kohistan and South Sindh have been effectively contained, the minister added.

Presenting the situation report, the prime minister’s focal person stated that the country programme efforts have given Pakistan a current polio epidemiology that remains the best ever seen, however interrupting poliovirus circulation and eradication are zero sum games. The encouraging results are driving the progress now – 20 Polio cases in 2016 were lowest ever recorded and the current case count of 2 compares to 11 during the same time period in 2016.

The country team shared details of activities conducted during the low transmission season thus for in programme areas of operations, surveillance as well as the management and oversight. The results of a recent survey indicating high immunity levels in the highest risk areas were also presented.

The delegation further shared the remaining risks and mitigation measures that the programme aimed to implement from now till the end of 2017 in all provinces and areas. The IMB was further updated on mechanisms put in place to jointly tackle the virus risk in bordering zones with Afghanistan.

The Board acknowledged the great progress made and thanked both the dedicated workforce of over 250,000 valiant frontline workers for their unwavering commitment, the people of Pakistan and the polio management team both at national and subnational levels for their commitment, creativity and hard work.

The IMB Chair, Sir Liam Donaldson further hosted a private dinner for the Pakistan delegation in recognition of their services for the global cause.

The IMB will be concluding deliberations by the end of this week and will issue recommendations during May.

The national coordinator termed the IMB deliberations very reassuring and motivating for the national polio eradication team. We have to stay focused and only a bit of additional push could help us in achieving a significant global public health landmark, he stated.