ISLAMABAD         -        Pakistan’s Regional Reference for Polio has been upgraded with assistance from Japan through a grant worth of US$3.3 million aimed to boost country’s capacity to swiftly track and respond to the poliovirus.

A statement released by National Institute of Health (NIH) said the laboratory currently tested over 30,000 stool samples and 950 environmental samples for polio a year from Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the global effort to end virus circulation in both polio endemic nations.

The assistance from the Japanese government has helped procure essential molecular-biology equipment for the laboratory; including genetic analysers, real time thermal cylinders, incubators and freezers. The grant has also been used to replace aging stocks of cold chain materials, reagents and other essential equipment.

“This lab is now one of the largest and best surveillance networks in the world for polio. A well-functioning laboratory is critical for ensuring successful surveillance in place to detect and respond to outbreaks,” shared Dr. Palitha Mahipala, WHO Representative in Pakistan. 

Representatives from the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHS), the Government of Japan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) ceremoniously handed over this equipment during a ceremony at the NIH.

Participants were briefed by the national coordinator, Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar on strategies and approaches being implemented in the country to push the poliovirus back during 2020. “Polio eradication is being promoted as a shared responsibility and response of different segments during last two campaigns has been very encouraging,” he added.

“This prestigious and high tech lab supports the largest surveillance network for polio which enabling the country programmes to generate required response efficiently,” shared Dr. Palitha Mahipala. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Secretary Dr. Allah Bakhash Malik said: “The support of the Government of Japan has been vital to Pakistan’s efforts to eradicate polio. Recent enhancements to the Regional Reference Laboratory (RRL) will further up-build our capacity to effectively tackle the associated risks in timely manner.”

Dr. Kitaoka Shinichi, the president of the JICA, speaking on the occasion, said: “I am delighted that our grant is being utilised effectively in this Regional Reference Laboratory. We have been supporting the polio eradication programme for almost 25 years. Currently, the programme is going through a very critical and important transformation. JICA will continue our support towards the untiring efforts of the Pakistani government.”