Technical advisory group optimistic about Pakistan's progress on polio
Pakistan’s polio eradication initiative (PEI) has been put under the microscope by members of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) in Islamabad this week as they review recent progress made in the fight to eradicate the disease from one of the world’s last reservoirs. The 2-day meeting drew polio experts from lead implementation partners World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), PEI leadership teams from provinces across Pakistan, senior representatives from across the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) and key donors.
TAG Chair Jean Marc Olive said Pakistan colleagues presented TAG with a comprehensive picture of the epidemiological situation across the country, indicating that the initiatives and interventions that are being used show the country is on the right track to end transmission. The Prime Ministers Focal Point for Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq thanked the TAG members for their commitment to supporting the Government of Pakistan in the noble fight to end polio. She gave a detailed review of the overall situation including pending questions and challenges the programme is facing.
TAG concluded that the goal of interruption of transmission in 2016 is achievable, but at risk unless there is further reduction in the immunity gaps especially in the core reservoirs. They cautioned that the most important risk to timely interruption of transmission of poliovirus in Pakistan is Karachi. The city remains a hub for population interactions across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and an amplifier of imported and indigenous virus. A failure to sustain the commitment to polio eradication by government and partners at all levels, a reduction of provision of adequate protection for polio teams and an inability to ensure full immunization of all children, especially in core reservoir areas will derail the attempts to eradicate in 2016.
TAG delivered 22 recommendations that the Pakistan programme focus on including:
- further strengthening the coordination and collaboration with Afghanistan around synchronised campaigns and with the tOPV-bOPV switch in 2016;
- intensifying political commitment, including greater involvement of Commissioners; strengthening the focus on core reservoirs and identifying specific Action-Plans for poorly performing districts;
- focusing efforts on delivering high-quality immunization activities in the next 4 months everywhere, with particular focus on areas with evidence of poliovirus transmission, especially Karachi, Killa Abdullah, Khyber, Peshawar and Sukkur;
- improved community surveillance and environmental surveillance will be important for the detection of transmission over the coming months;
- lessons learnt from the CCPV experience should be used to improve performance in non-CCPV areas;
- TAG asked that Pakistan begin preparations for the 2016-2017 National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP) in the coming months and be prepared to reconvene mid-2016 to review and track progress.