Islamabad-Technical Advisory Group on polio eradication has urged government to urgently transform the programme to address the remaining challenges and end polio once and for all, a statement said on Saturday.

The two-day meeting concluded here highlighting the urgent need for a programme transformation.

The meeting was attended by representatives of the government, polio eradication leadership at the national and provincial levels, partners and donors of the Polio Eradication Programme, including Rotary International, the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In his remarks, TAG Chair Dr Jean Marc Olivé appreciated exceptional commitment of the government to polio eradication efforts. To this end, he said, “The political commitment to polio eradication in Pakistan is exceptional. The country programme needs to capitalise on its strong country leadership, and regain the ‘one team’ approach where all the partners work together as one team,” he said. Taking into account the existing challenges and expanding polio epidemiology with as many as 58 polio cases reported so far this year, members of the TAG emphasised that Pakistan urgently implement a transformation across the programme.

According to the TAG, this transformation must focus primarily on improving campaign quality across the country, especially in high risk union councils of polio transmission, while also building community trust, strengthening routine immunization and collaboration with ‘Ehsaas’ programme for the delivery of clean water, sanitation, hygiene and nutrition.

Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza appreciated the TAG recommendations and said, “On behalf of the government, I reiterate our resolve to end polio. I assure the TAG that we will work tirelessly together to achieve this goal during the upcoming low transmission season, and will provide all the requisite oversight, ownership and accountability necessary to do so.”

He further added that, “despite the identified challenges, we have not lost our resolve to end polio. The government remains committed to turn around this situation as soon as possible to secure a polio free Pakistan and finally a polio free world.”

Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Babar Bin Atta welcomed the TAG recommendations and said that Pakistan would put all efforts into making sure these recommendations are implemented. The statement said that representatives of partner and donor agencies reassured the government of their continued commitment to support the country’s efforts to eradicate polio.

Speaking on behalf of the World Health Organisation, the WHO Representative in Pakistan Dr Palitha Mahipala, said, “We are hopeful that with the extraordinary government leadership and commitment as well as support of the TAG, we will soon be able to turn this situation around. I want to reiterate that you have WHO’s full support to make Pakistan polio-free in the near future.” Country Representative for UNICEF in Pakistan Aida Girma said, “This meeting has extensively discussed the challenges and opportunities for strengthening the communications component of the programme.

Further support from all partners will be required to implement key communication strategies from the National Emergency Action Plan with dedicated communication teams in order to increase community trust in the programme, increase vaccine acceptance and generate demand for Polio and immunisation services. UNICEF commits all available technical support for this area of work.”