Pakistan to implement WHO’s polio directive from June

By Pau Miranda,

Islamabad : Pakistan will put into effect from June an international recommendation that requires all travellers from this south Asian country to carry a polio vaccination certificate.

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Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the measure due to the alarming increase in the number of polio cases in the country (61 so far compared to the total of 91 in 2013).

The statistics serve as evidence that Pakistan has become the largest global source of polio infections.

The WHO recommended that vaccination should be mandatory in Pakistan, Cameroon, and Syria, WHO official in Pakistan Nima Abid told Efe.

The WHO official also said that, according to evidence gathered, the “three countries have exported the virus recently”.

Pakistan is one of the three countries where this illness is still endemic, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, and tops the rankings of the cases registered in the world so far.

“We understand that Pakistani authorities need a few more weeks to implement the recommendation,” Abid said and also emphasised that the measure would be in effect for three months, which can later be extended.

Mazhar Nisar, spokesperson of Pakistan’s health ministry, told Efe that the vaccination services were now available at ports, airports, border posts and health centres “of all the districts of the country”.

“Anyone leaving Pakistan from June 1 should carry a vaccination certificate,” Nisar said.

He also added that the measure would be applicable to the foreign nationals who spend more than a month in Pakistani territory.

The WHO and the government of Pakistan issued a joint statement Tuesday that they were closely working together in order to guarantee the availability of immunisation doses.

An element that has stirred up the concern of the health officials is the growing number of cases in the country’s big cities, specially Karachi South, with the prospect of a rapid contagion of the virus.

Karachi South district has a population of 20 million people and so far this year five cases have been registered.

Polio mainly transmits via fecal-oral route, converting the cities with poor sanitation into a favourable environment for propagation of the disease.

Pakistan has become a problem for the international health organisations due to the expansion of the virus to other countries where the illness was eradicated.

The WHO has confirmed recent cases of polio with virus strains from Pakistan in countries such as Syria, Israel, Palestine and Egypt.

In order to vaccinate travellers, 10 million doses will be needed in addition to the 300 million annual dose requirement of polio campaign in the country, a WHO source said.

Currently, only India and Georgia demand vaccination from travellers coming from Pakistan, but other countries are expected to join the list due to increasing cases in the country.

The unstoppable rise in the number of infected people is closely related with the impossibility of vaccinating hundreds of thousands of children in the tribal belt northwest of Paksitan, specially in the North Waziristan region.

The main obstacle in the fight against polio in Pakistan is the series of armed attacks against polio vaccination personnel and their escorts by fundamentalist groups, which this year have already claimed 20 lives.

Although the Taliban do not usually claim their hand in such actions, groups related to them and based in this tribal belt bordering Afghanistan started to take armed action against the health workers in 2012.

Among other arguments, the fundamentalists claim that the polio campaign is part of a Western plot to sterilise Muslims and that the vaccination personnel are spies for the CIA.