Islamabad - Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on National Health Services (NHS) Dr. Faisal Sultan on Thursday said that the country’s decade long efforts to eradicate polio have been impacted by novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

SAPM on NHS Dr. Faisal Sultan said this in a virtual Press briefing of Ministers of Health of the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMR) where he talked about ongoing efforts to control COVID-19 in Pakistan.

SAPM on NHS said that Pakistan is a country affected not just by COVID-19 and that our population is exposed to insecurity, natural disasters and other emergencies.

“We are also battling polio, and our decade long efforts to eradicate

this disease have now been impacted by COVID-19, as polio staff and resources are diverted to the pandemic response,” he said.

He said that like many countries around the world, easing of lockdowns resulted in a resurgence of cases in October.

In October, a team from WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean visited Pakistan to review some of the lessons learned to strategize and offer technical guidance and recommendations for a stronger, more robust response to COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

There was a recognized need for rapid review on what worked well and what needs to be improved for planning a more effective response to the pandemic, he added.

The specific objectives included providing technical assistance in strategic planning in the short, middle and longer-term for the four pillars of the COVID-19 response, he stated.

The government focused on reviewing progress towards Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response and examining the situation on the Points of Entry (POEs), he said.

He said that it also worked on initiating essential health services to align with the targets for Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and reviewing Risk Communication and Community Engagement.

Dr Faisal Sultan said that it was clear that there is a need to progressively build and expand integrated programmes and geographical coverage with governance implementation and resource management, data convergence, strengthening key technical aspects and ensuring quality assurance.

“COVID has led Pakistan to rethink approach to managing Points of Entry (POE),” he said.

He further added that taking advantage of the already well-established and wide community-based networks allowed building on this for COVID-19.

He said there are limited resources and seasoned expertise dedicated to Risk Communication at federal and provincial levels; capacity building lacked integration and need for consolidating all monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.

“Like many countries, we are adapting our response as the situation evolves,” he said.

Dr. Faisal Sultan said that despite the challenges, Pakistan is committed to containing the outbreak, while ensuring that gains made so far in other areas are not impeded, and that we can continue to collectively work together towards on global, regional and Pakistan-specific goals of universal health coverage with priority to reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health and nutrition services.