Polio leaders in Pakistan on extraordinary operations visit
Newly-appointed Pakistan leaders committed to delivering polio-free country
4 September 2023 – Recognising the importance of Pakistan in the global polio eradication effort, as one of the last two WPV1-endemic countries, the operational polio leadership of WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travelled this week to Pakistan to observe first-hand operations, latest developments and innovations, and meet with newly-appointed political leadership. The delegation, which was in-country from 29 August to 1 September, consisted of Director of Polio Eradication at WHO Headquarters and Chair of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) Strategy Committee Aidan O’Leary from WHO and Richard Franka, Team Lead of the Pakistan Team at Polio Eradication Branch, CDC.
The GPEI leaders noted the unprecedented historic opportunity to achieve success in the country this year, with WPV1 transmission at record-low levels. At the same time, the group noted the high level of engagement and political will for the effort, at all levels. Meeting with Dr Nadeem Jan, newly-appointed interim Federal Health Minister who visited the polio National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) on his very first day in office last month, the delegation received assurance that polio eradication is a key operational priority for Dr Jan’s tenure.
Dr Jan stated: “It is important for us that our country and global partners and donors stand together in this final leg of the eradication journey. I am a polio worker at heart. I will ensure that not only does polio remain a priority at all tiers of governance, but efforts are more targeted and intensified.”
This level of commitment was further mirrored at meetings with other national and provincial political and health leaders, including the Engineer-in-Chief at the General Headquarters in Islamabad, provincial health ministers of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh, and the Chief Secretary of Sindh, to ensure the new interim administration in the country carries the positive momentum forward. Together, concrete ways to capitalize on the current epidemiological opportunity were discussed, including in fully implementing recommendations by the recent Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for Polio Eradication in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in particular in implementing area-specific and tailored tactics to overcome area-specific challenges to reaching remaining un- or under-vaccinated children. The delegation also visited field activities and witnessed first-hand the tremendous efforts, innovations and commitments undertaken by polio workers and local communities, including in the remaining WPV1-endemic districts of the southern area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Aidan O’Leary commented: “Rarely have I seen this level of commitment to achieve success. On behalf of the GPEI, and on behalf of children and parents everywhere, I would like to thank and commend authorities at all levels in Pakistan for their tremendous engagement, leadership and commitment to reaching every last child. Literally no stone is being left unturned to find and vaccinate all remaining unvaccinated children, in particular in the remaining endemic areas of the southern area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. With this level of commitment, I am confident a polio-free Pakistan will soon be achieved, and GPEI partners of course remain committed in supporting Pakistan’s authorities in this quest.”
The delegation was also attended by members of the international development community, including local representatives of Rotary International.