Bidding adieu to 2015 is an emotionally touching moment for all of us because we have collectively made significant gains in polio eradication this year.
While Pakistan has never been closer to success, we have been here before – three times in the past ten years – and did not fully finish the job. Each time, the virus survived because it found sufficient pockets of under-immunized children.
We are confident that we will succeed this time not only because we have 80% fewer cases than we did in 2014, (51 cases compared to 306 last year) but we also have a much stronger partnership that extends from parents themselves to district, provincial, national and international leadership supporting vaccination of children never reached before.
Last but not the least, despite significantly strengthened surveillance to detect the virus in its last hideouts, 50% fewer genetic clusters of the virus are now circulating. Our resolve for 2016 stems from the fact that we are getting closer to the stringent quality targets that we set for ourselves in the National Emergency Action Plan.
Under the leadership of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, our collective aim remains to defeat the virus by May this year to showcase the world that when we as a nation understand, internalize and operationalize our respective targets, no hurdle can match our sheer hard work and dedication.
On the eve of beginning the New Year, despite all achievements, the polio management team feels that “we are not done yet because our goal is nothing less than zero” and above all, our frontline workers, the real heroes of the programme, are committed to finish the job.
Whereas our struggle to overcome remaining challenges in Karachi centrifuge and Khyber-Peshawar conveyer belt continues, how we have managed to achieve more than 90% independently assessed coverage in the last campaign of 2015 all across is in itself an impressive story. Our holistic and multi-pronged approach for safe and high quality campaigns seems to be working well.
A consensus National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP) for Polio Eradication, professionally laid out administrative & operational structure and a mechanism to identify and address issues in real time are just the few highlights of Pakistan’s Program.
These are revitalized through a well-coordinated network of Emergency Operation Centres across Pakistan, AJK and Gilgit Baltistan. But what really deserves our accolade are the front line workers who have braved every hardship, traversed every terrain and sustained all threats to bring us so close to achieving the dream of zero.
In the process of achieving results, our national work force and overall health system has acquired some valuable new technology and skills. It has given us the confidence to not only see the end of Polio in Pakistan but hope of sustaining these efforts and transferring these lesson to efficiently detect and respond to all kinds of threats to human health including emergencies.
Use of latest Bio-technology, unblemished cold chain maintenance, real time information management and the art of putting our acts together are a few of such skills and technologies that our national and provincial teams are employing in collaboration with local and international partnerships.
The Independent Monitoring Board (IMB), the body that evaluates the implementation of global polio eradication efforts, has recently acknowledged the gains of Pakistan Polio Program by saying in its October 2015 review: “The Pakistan programme now has all the ingredients required to finish the job.
Firstly, it has concerned and well-informed parents who accept vaccine each time it is offered and know that it is the only way to fully protect their children from permanent paralysis. Secondly, it has a dedicated network of frontline health workers who enjoy the acceptance and trust of their communities.
These workers are supported by an informed and supportive medical fraternity, civil society, religious leadership and media. Crucially there now exists an enabling security architecture which supports access to practically all children in Pakistan and ensures safety for frontline workers”.
Acknowledging support from all walks of life, it will be unfair not to mention the valuable contribution of national, regional and even global media throughout our endeavors.
We strongly believe that a responsible, caring and vigilant media is the best partner we can have during our last push in next few months. The program will therefore, continue to work with them for the sake of improved transparency, accountability and guidance.
After successfully organizing 13 safe campaigns across the country last year, we have planned five in the first half of the new year. Our dedicated teams across the country from the depths of Tharparker and Cholistan deserts to the peaks of the Himalayas, from corners of Arabian and Indian Oceans to the plains of the country, are all but set to give promised hope to the world.
No matter what linguistic, ethnic or religious background they belong to, they have given us one message to share with rest of Pakistan and the world: “We will make 2016 a memorable year by declaring an end to the transmission of Polio in Pakistan”.
The author is Coordinator National Emergency Operation Centre