Pakistan, Afghanistan should work together to eradicate polio

Source: Published in Health on Friday, January 29, 2016

ISLAMABAD: The chairperson of Technical Advisory Group (TAG), an organisation that advises Pakistan on polio eradication programmes, has suggested that Pakistan and Afghanistan should come together in their efforts towards eradicating polio from both countries.

At a meeting to review the Pakistani governments’ progress over the last six months, Chairman TAG Dr Jean Marc Olive said: “Pakistan will not make it on its own so there needs to be a stronger coordination with Afghanistan. It is, however, good to see a better management of mass vaccination campaigns.”

Mr Olive added that the hardest part would be maintaining the gains and that there was a need for further improving operations in areas most affected by polio.

“I want to acknowledge the commitment to the programme, the difference this has made, and the support from the country’s security forces. It is now clear that accessibility is no longer a barrier or interruption. But the job is not finished yet. We need continuous support from security forces”, Mr Olive said, adding that there is still a need for improving surveillance in some areas.

The Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication, Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq told the meeting that the virus had been confined to just three places in the country including the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi and Quetta.

However, she cautioned, the rest of Pakistan is still at high risk high and said there is a need for focusing on delivering high quality campaigns and vaccinating every child to ensure the virus does not spread.

“We believe we can finish the job in 2016,” she said.

Secretary Ministry of National Health Service Mohammad Ayub Sheikh said the ministry had started the new year with a resolve to achieve the targets set.

“With strong political commitment from the government and with support from all our partners, I believe we will defeat the virus this year”, he said.

National Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar told the meeting that the next four months are critical in stopping the virus from spreading.

He said that while the number of children paralysed by polio last year had decreased by 80 pc, Pakistan still accounted for nearly three out of four children affected by polio worldwide.

“Every time we set out to finish the virus, it survives because it manages to find children who have not been vaccinated. This time, the program is focused on finding these children and vaccinating them, so the virus has nowhere to hide”, Dr Safdar said.

He briefed the meeting on the shifts in the program’s strategies and that there was now a focus on quality campaigns, not on quantities. He said the focus had moved to finding missed children and putting campaign workers at the centre of the efforts. He added that greater coordination and planning had led to better results last year.

TAG will be hearing in-depth analysis from provincial teams before delivering their recommendations to the government on what is needed to end polio in Pakistan in 2016.

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