Pakistan has requested the World Health Organisation (WHO) to convene a meeting of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) as soon as possible to discuss its polio eradication strategy in light of the current security situation of the country and to channel resources for vaccine and operational activities.
Official sources in the PM Polio cell said the TAG meeting is held on periodic basis annually but can be convened when there is an emergency like situation.
In a letter – written to WHO country representative Dr Michel Jean Jules Thieren – the Prime Minister’s Focal Person for Polio Eradication Ayesha Raza Farooq has expressed grave concern over the prevailing security situation in the country, which has affected polio eradication activities during the last year.
“Due to the current security situation in the country, the schedule of supplementary immunisation activities (SIAs) – planned in the month of December 2014 has been disturbed. Campaigns in various high risk areas of the country have been delayed, staggered or cancelled,” said the letter, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
According to the letter, five towns of Karachi, Quetta and Swabi districts have not yet completed vaccination of 1st National Immunisation Days (NIDs) of low transmission season for want of better security to polio teams. It also said that 15 more districts and areas of the country have also postponed the NIDs scheduled from 22-24 December 2014.
Therefore, in view of the disturbance caused in anti-polio drives due to prevailing security situation, the PM Polio Cell has called off Short Interval Polio Campaigns targeting 8.8 million children, scheduled from January 5-7, 2015 in 76 districts across the country, it added.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Ayesha Raza Farooq said the SIAs has been called off so that the districts can get time to prepare for the upcoming first NIDs of 2015, targeting 35 million children, starting from January 19 and to ensure foolproof security, ‘which is the need of the hour’.
She said poor preparation may result in low quality of anti-polio campaigns, which, she said, are of no use in the fight against polio.
Farooq said considering the high number of polio cases reported in 2014 very intensive polio immunisation campaigns have been scheduled during the current low transmission season starting from January till March, 2015 to control virus circulation mainly in the high risk and reservoir areas of the country.
“At this hour, we cannot take the risk of affecting the quality of anti-polio drives by overlapping them just to show the world that we have followed our planned activities,” she held.
Ayesha Farooq said that after the December 16 Peshawar incident, the security situation has become further challenging. Since 2012, up to 73 people – including polio workers and policemen – have been killed and 53 others injured during polio vaccination campaigns in the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 4th, 2015.