ISLAMABAD-The Japanese government on Friday announced $3.2 million grant for the procurement of equipment for the polio eradication laboratory at the National Institute, Islamabad.

The notes were officially signed by the representatives of the Government of Japan, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Health Organisation. The grant will be provided for modernising the NIH Polio Regional Reference Laboratory.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, Federal Minister of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar said: “The steady support of the Japanese government and other partners and the strong partnership has been crucial elements of the programme’s tremendous progress over the past two years. The new grant will help strengthen polio surveillance through new technology and contribute towards polio eradication in the country.”

Takashi Kurai, Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan, said: “Maintaining the strong polio’s surveillance system that has been established in Pakistan remains critical for eradication of the disease. We are pleased to be a part of this honourable initiative. However, to eradicate polio altogether from Pakistan, it is not sufficient to promote vaccination activities. We should also address the unawareness issue among the people and the need for building up the necessary infrastructure for enhancing the activities. Japan will continue to support Pakistan for polio eradication from a wider perspective to achieve the complete eradication of the deadly disease.”

Earlier briefing the media, Regional Manager WHO Christopher Maher said that in 2017 only six cases of polio were reported in the country which is encouraging. ”With polio at the lowest level in the history of Pakistan, the programme has launched an all-out and hopefully final assault on the disease in 2018”. In 2018, the Pakistan programme will further strengthen its close coordination with Afghanistan polio eradication programme to ensure that all children moving frequently across border are fully vaccinated against polio. When asked about setting a condition of polio certificate for Afghanis or Pakistanis moving across the border, he said, it is not possible. “We have set up posts on different location of border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and they are administering the moving kids from both sides of the border. He said that the cases of polio has considerable decreased and “we see 2018 the final year of polio in Pakistan”.

With the procurement of state-of-the-art molecular-biology equipment, including genetic analysers, real time PCR machines, incubators and freezers, among others, the laboratory will significantly enhance its sample processing capacity.

In addition, the Japanese grant will be used to replace aging stocks of cold chain materials, reagents and other essential equipment needed to be able to accurately isolate and identify the wild polio virus from the stool and environmental samples.

Yasuhiro Tojo, Chief Representative, JICA Pakistan office said: “JICA is supporting polio programme and routine immunisation since 1996 and 2001 respectively”. He further added: “I sincerely believe that through the concerted implementation of this grant aid, the polio surveillance system will progress across the provinces and districts. This will improve the routine immunisation situation in the country, including polio that will help the government of Pakistan not only eradicate polio but also to sustain polio-free Pakistan after eradication.”

Only eight polio cases were recorded in 2017 as compared to 20 in 2016 and 54 in 2015. “Japan’s support comes during a critical time when the role of polio surveillance, particularly a well-functioning laboratory, is more important than ever,” Christopher Maher, Polio Eradication and Emergency Support Manager, WHO said.

She said that the Japanese government has supported the polio eradication initiative in Pakistan since 1996. Approximately $224 million, including this grant of $3.2 million has been given to Pakistan to strengthen the polio eradication programme.