Islamabad, January 28, 2016 - Pakistan’s polio eradication programme is confident that during the current year major progress will be achieved in fighting polio.

This was the message the Prime Ministers Focal Point for Polio Eradication Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq delivered to members of the Technical Advisory Group for polio eradication when they convened in Islamabad today to review progress made in the past six months.

“One of the programmes striking features has been its ability to translate lessons learnt quickly and efficiently and to apply strategic interventions” she said, “We believe we are on track to finish the job this year.”

The Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq explained about the virus, to TAG members and supporting partners, is cornered in just three remaining sanctuaries – the Khyber-Peshawar corridor, Karachi and the Quetta block. However, she cautioned, the risks to Pakistan span beyond these areas and a determined focus on delivering high quality campaigns for the remainder of the low season and finding every missed child is critical to ensure the virus cannot survive and spread.

Mr Muhammad Ayub Sheikh, Secretary Ministry of National Health Service Regulation and Coordination welcomed the TAG stating he was confident that the findings from the two day meeting will help with the final push to interrupt transmission.

“We have started the new year with the resolve to move with determination towards the targets set. With strong political commitment from the Government of Pakistan, at all levels, and strong support from partners, I believe we will defeat the virus this year.”

Technical Advisory Group Chairman Jean Marc Olivé commended the programme for the substantial recent progress, particularly around key operational issues that have affected the programme in the past.

“I want to acknowledge the commitment and the difference that has been made by the support of security forces in Pakistan.It is clear that accessibility is no longer a barrier to interruption,” he said, “but the job is not finished, we need continuous support of the security forces.”

Mr Olive said that the hardest part will be maintaining the gains, and further improving operations in the key reservoirs.

“We still need to improve surveillance in certain areas, we welcome sustained commitment to accountability; he said. 

“Pakistan will not make it on their own; there needs to be much stronger coordination with Afghanistan. However, it is good to see there is synchronization of mass vaccination campaigns and the [tOPV –bOPV antigen] switch this year; he said.

National Emergency Operations Centre Coordinator Dr Rana Safdar acknowledged that the next four months are critical in stopping transmission. While the number of children paralyzed by polio in 2015 has dropped by 80%,Pakistan accounted for more than 3 out of every 4 children struck by polio worldwide.

“We have been here before, three times in the past ten years – and we did not fully finish the job. Each time, the virus survived because it found sufficient pockets of under-immunised children. This time, every part of the program is focused on finding and vaccinating those children, so the virus has nowhere to hide,” Dr Safdar said.

Dr Safdar briefed the TAG on the key shift in strategic thinking that the programme is utilising to close in on the virus. The shift from quantityto quality campaigns, moving the focus to missed children, putting the frontline worker at the centre of the eradication effort, and the establishment of the EOCs to bring greater coordination, planning and oversight for operations has led to improvements seen in 2015, he said.

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