Islamabad - In an important inter-country meeting on cross-border transmission of poliovirus, Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed on joint activities including coordinated vaccination drives and vigilance to stop the cross-border spread of polio in both countries.

A 50-member delegation of public health experts led by Dr Hedayatullah Satankzai, Senior Adviser on Health to Afghan Government is on a visit to Pakistan to hold important meetings to stop the circulation of poliovirus in bordering areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The meeting scheduled on April in Afghanistan was cancelled at the 11th hour due to security concerns.

Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq, Prime Minister’s Focal Person on Polio Eradication along with the officials from national crises management cell, interior and foreign ministries, and Pakistan army led the Pakistani side.

The two delegations developed a joint plan of action to strengthen immunisation services and surveillance in border areas, which was approved by heads of both delegations.

It was agreed that in areas of Afghanistan that borders with Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, Balochistan, vaccination campaigns would be scheduled on the same days and teams of either side would vaccinate the children near to its vicinity regardless of borders.

To ensure that no child skips polio vaccine drops, Pakistani vaccination teams may be assigned to vaccinate children in Afghanistan in their nearest vicinity and vice versa. Local and regional vaccination teams of both the countries will decide the mechanism after meetings.  

“The decision was agreed upon by the delegations for better coordination and to make sure that children of both side of the border are covered”, explained Dr Rana Muhammad Safdar, National Coordinator National Emergency Operations Centre.

Over the years children of border areas missed polio vaccine dosages due to lack of coordination, he said although, this year Pakistan did not export the virus and cases have been reduced to 70 per cent but three cases were reported in Pakistan due to import of virus from Afghanistan, he added

It’s important to mention that International Monitoring Board of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative in its report in May had also regretted the cancellation of meeting between the two countries and urged them to draw a mechanism to stop the virus circulation.

The meeting also agreed to appoint focal persons from both the countries who will hold regular meetings to share progress on the initiatives. Pakistani officials of National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) will also help establish a national emergency operation centre in Afghanistan on the pattern of Pakistani national EOC.

Speaking on the occasion Senator Ayesha Raza Farooq said, “Pakistan and Afghanistan today remains the only countries in the South Asian region afflicted with polio whereas the entire region has been certified as free of the disease.”

“Given the highly porous border and heavy and frequent cross border movement, we will have to make collective efforts as one epidemiological block to stop polio virus transmission through a robust closely coordinated plan,” she stressed. “Polio anywhere in both the countries means polio everywhere.”

Senior Adviser Health Afghanistan Dr Hedayatullah Satankzai appreciated the government of Pakistan for the initiative to forge strong cross border collaboration between the two countries in this critical area.