ISLAMABAD: The government of Japan announced on Friday that they would fund US$3.2 million to Regional Reference Laboratory, located in the National Institute of Health in Islamabad, to get required equipment for polio eradication.
This includes the procurement of up-to-date molecular biology equipment including genetic analysers, prompt PCR machines, incubators and freezers, among others, the laboratory will significantly enhance its sample processing capacity.
Federal Minister of National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar emphasised the significance of the Japanese government’s support, and how it has been an essential element in the programme’s progress. Polio has been a looming threat to the nation. Pakistan is one of the only three countries left in the world still affected by the polio virus. Measures to eradicate the threat have been evolving at a very gradual pace. The new grant is expected to help strengthen polio surveillance through adaptation of new technology and speed up the process of polio eradication in the country.
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The new equipment will be able to speed up the results reported from stool samples that it receives of people suffering from acute flaccid paralysis, in addition to samples taken from sewage in areas identified as being under the threat of polio.
In 2017, the Regional Reference Laboratory tested 30,000 stool samples and 950 environmental samples come from both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Furthermore, the Japanese grant will be used to obtain other essential equipment required to accurately isolate and identify the threat of the wild polio virus from various samples. The grant was officially signed by the representatives of the government of Japan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and World Health Organisation (WHO) at an event by the Ministry of National Health Services.
Ambassador of Japan to Pakistan Takashi Kurai, said, "Maintaining the strong polio surveillance system that has been established in Pakistan remains vital for the eradication of the virus. We are pleased to be a part of this honourable initiative.
However, in order to eradicate polio altogether from Pakistan, it is not sufficient to solely go through the promotion of vaccination activities. We should also address the lack of awareness of the matter among the public and the need for building up of the necessary infrastructure for enhancing the activities. Japan will continue to support Pakistan for polio eradication from a wider perspective in order to achieve the complete eradication of polio." He added.
'Pakistan will soon be able to eradicate polio'
JICA Chief Representative, Yasuhiro Tojo said: "JICA has been supporting the polio programme and routine immunisation since 1996 and 2001 respectively.” He added that he believed this aid would only help eradicate the problem but would also help the government sustain the country’s polio-free status.
Pakistan's Polio Eradication Programme has come a long way towards building a future in which polio no longer endangers children, families, and communities across the country. Only eight polio cases were recorded in 2017, compared to 20 in 2016 and 54 in 2015.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2018.
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