With the establishment of a NITAG in Timor-Leste in November 2015, active NITAGs now exist in all 11 SEAR countries. The technical capacity at a national level is being enhanced by supporting NITAGs to monitor immunization coverage and providing advocacy on further strengthening of national immunization programmes through evidence-based decisionmaking. SEARO is preparing a document to share the experience and lessons learnt on the formation of NITAGs in SEAR.
In Timor-Leste on 10 November 2015, the Honorable Minister of Health, Dr Maria Sarmento da Costa, issued a decree establishing a NITAG, with the role of providing recommendations to the Ministry of Health to ensure that national immunization policies are developed using evidence-based processes. This followed careful consideration of a guiding concept paper and endorsement by the Council of Directors of the Ministry of Health. The NITAG for Timor-Leste will be chaired by Dr Viarna Matins, Pediatrician, current chairperson of TimorLeste Medical Association and National Committee for Certification of Polio Eradication and Measles Elimination.
Later in the month, from 23 to 25 November 2015, a workshop was held in Dili, Timor-Leste, to orient the newly formed NITAG in Timor-Leste on its role. The objectives of the workshop were to discuss the rationale for and role of the NITAG, the mechanisms of a NITAG in addressing technical issues, the coordinating function of a NITAG with immunization stakeholders, and information needed for decision-making. The workshop also aimed to evaluate the functional elements of the NITAG and its terms of reference (including composition, operations, use of technical working groups, and its policies for confidentiality and conflicts of interest) and to introduce a process for issuing evidence-based recommendations and plans for further strengthening of its functioning.
The workshop was opened by the Hon. Minister of Health on 23 November 2015 and Dr Rajesh Pandav, WHO Representative Timor-Leste was also present. Dr Nihal Abeysinghe, (WHO SEARO), Dr Narendra K Arora, Vice Chair SAGE from SEAR, Dr Antoinette Ba-Nguz (SIVAC) and Prof Jahit Sacarlal (NITAG Chair, Mozambique) facilitated the workshop with overall coordination by Dr Sudath Peiris, MO-EPI (WHO Timor-Leste). There were at least 20 participants, including seven core and 13 non-core members of the newly constituted Timor-Leste NITAG. Outcomes of the workshop were:
1) Orientation of the NITAG members on the structure and functioning of the NITAG;
2) Development of a NITAG Operational Manual for Timor-Leste;
3) Development of a 2015-2016 workplan for the NITAG, and;
4) Identification of further needs for establishing a functional NITAG in Timor-Leste.