Islamabad - The Independent Monitoring Board’s (IMB) latest report on polio eradication has portrayed in stark terms Pakistan’s moribund polio programme, saying that this cannot be allowed to continue a month longer and recommended to put it under the control of National Disaster Management Authority to stop polio in Pakistan.

The Independent Monitoring Board’s detailed report on polio released on Saturday asked for more aggressive action for polio eradication and made series of powerful recommendations. It recommended that the prime minister and the federal cabinet should assign the task of stopping polio in Pakistan to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with immediate effect.

In the IMB on polio convened in London on September 30 and October 1, Health Minister Saira Afzal Tarar and Ayesha Raza Farooq, Prime Minister Focal Person at Polio Monitoring Cell, had represented Pakistan to discuss international concerns over increasing cases in FATA and KP. The IMB comprising global experts from a variety of fields assesses progress towards the attainment of a polio-free world.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster and continues to flounder hopelessly, as polio virus flourishes,” says the report. “Home to 80% of the world’s polio cases in 2014, Pakistan is now the major stumbling block to global polio eradication. The principal victims are the children of Pakistan who are left vulnerable and unprotected by their government.”

Pakistan is a real and present danger to people in neighbouring countries and further afield, it blames. “Afghanistan has repeatedly been infected with polio from Pakistan but can do more to prevent it. Death and paralysis from the Pakistan polio virus has struck in the Middle East. Pakistan polio virus has paralysed 38 children in Syria and Iraq during the last year.”

Already standing out for all the wrong reasons, Pakistan’s unwanted status as the world’s major polio reservoir is now stark and deeply embarrassing for such a proud country, it continues to say. “It is a mystery why Pakistan cannot do what Nigeria is doing - if it truly focuses on improving vaccination coverage to make its population immune to polio, Pakistan too can see the graphs rising, and case numbers falling,” it suggests.

The report maintains that inaccessibility in the areas of North and South Waziristan after military operation is no longer a valid excuse. “Insecurity also cannot explain the polio cases that have occurred in Punjab, or excuse those that have occurred in numerous districts of Karachi, the country’s largest city and main port. The potential for the virus to be exported from Karachi poses a real threat to surrounding countries and the wider world. The government of Pakistan can reach its children, if it wants to.” The report also censured the government for not establishing emergency operations centre (EOC) by the July 2014 deadline as recommended by the board in its last meeting.

However, the report praising the efforts of Nigeria in curbing the disease says that “Nigeria - the African continent’s last polio reservoir - has greatly strengthened its programme over the last two years.”

The much-improved performance of the Nigeria programme has brought interruption of transmission in that country within reach.     

The IMB believed that the time has come to recommend that all countries introduce a requirement that travellers from polio-infected   countries should produce a valid vaccination certificate or be turned away.

After the most careful consideration, the IMB has recommending in this report that the polio programme in Pakistan should be put in the hands of the NDMA, with immediate effect.

It emphasised on strengthening of the newly created emergency operations cell to have the capacity and authority to run a programme truly set on eradication.

The IMB detailed report also strongly urged strengthening of the routine immunisation as it is already part of the programme’s 2013-18 plan.

It recommends polio-funded staff to treat routine immunisation as major focus area. The IMB in its findings highlighted that routine immunisation may have an important role to play in Pakistan in stacking the odds against the virus in a way that the population welcomes more than repeated polio-only campaigns. It has also been recommended to introduce civil society voices to raise the profile of the Polio Program in Pakistan.

“The top leaders of each province need to step forward as never before. Civil society needs to be mobilised. Pakistan’s allies in the region, particularly the United Arab Emirates, China, and Saudi Arabia, need to bring their influence and abilities to bear.”