Islamabad - The vaccination coverage of children in a recent anti-polio campaign has been recorded at 95.82 percent against the target of 90 percent for the first time, according to a third party independent assessment.

The National Emergency Action Plan (NEAP), which has set the target to end poliovirus circulation by May 2016, was anticipating 90 percent vaccination coverage. But the independent assessment by a private firm has found it over 90 percent for the first time. According to data available with The Nation, the coverage rate in Punjab was found 98.05 percent following FATA, 97.28 percent, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 97.19 percent, Sindh, 96.54 percent, Balochistan, 92.18 percent, and Gilgit-Baltistan, 90 percent.

The three-day national campaign - National Immunisation Days (NIDs) – was held from December 14 to 16 in most parts of the country except Azad Jammu and Kashmir that was delayed due to some job concerns of health workers. According to officials, for the first time, all provinces and areas have achieved an independently assessed coverage of over 90 percent. Moreover, among 12 tier-I districts carrying the highest risk of poliovirus, all achieved over 90 percent coverage except Killa Abdulla (88%).

About 1 percent of the targeted children who were not available at homes during campaign are being followed up during catch-up period of two weeks currently underway, officials say.

Overall refusal rate among targeted children during the campaign was 0.1 percent, which are also being pursued during catch-up period through social mobilisers, community and religious influencers etc.

However the Lot Quality Assurance Sampling (LQAS), a random sampling methodology, assessment intentionally skewed towards most problematic UCs has indicated an overall coverage of 79 percent against NEAP target of 80 percent. Officials maintain that out of 734 high risk union councils, the coverage was sub-optimal only in four – three in Killa Abdullah and one in Bannu – while the rest union councils were close to the target.

Results of December NIDs are highly encouraging and programme seems on track to interrupt virus transmission through 5 high quality campaigns during January - May 2016, said Dr Rana Safdar, National Coordinator of Emergency Operation Centre.

However, the programme, he said, shall need to continue concerted efforts to reach more children, especially in Karachi, Northern Sindh districts, Dera Bugti, Kech and Killa Abdullah in Balochistan, besides maintaining high coverage elsewhere.

With an 85 percent reduction in recorded polio cases in 2015, the United Nations Children’s Fund has announced last month that Pakistan may be declared a ‘non-endemic country for polio virus’ by next year.  However, World Health Organisation official say the momentum needs to be maintained and has to go up to achieve the target. They also stress that ending virus must be taken and dealt as a national cause and currant political turmoil between the federal and Sindh government must not affect the eradication efforts.

Pakistan has registered 51 polio cases so far this year as compared to 306 cases recorded last year.