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KARACHI: The Prime Minister's Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, World Health Organisation, Unicef and partners in Pakistan's Polio Eradication Initiative have called for urgent pre-emptive measures against exportation of the polio virus after positive samples linked to the Sukkur district were discovered in Egypt, officials said on Monday.

“Two sewage samples collected from the Al Salam and Al Haggana areas of Cairo district and analysed in a laboratory bore resemblance to a strain discovered recently in sewage water tested in Sukkur,” said a joint statement of Prime Minister's Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell, World Health Organisation and Unicef.

“As a preemptive measure and to reduce the possibility of spread of the polio virus beyond Pakistan’s borders, the government’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell is advising all provincial governments and federal administration to set up permanent vaccination counters inside international departure lounges of all airports so that all children under five years leaving the country are vaccinated against the poliovirus.

The Prime Minister’s Polio Monitoring and Coordination Cell has already asked the Sindh government to improve its polio immunisation efforts to stop transmission of the virus in the province on an emergency basis, it added.

“Importation of polio virus is a stark reminder of risks associated with active poliovirus transmission in the country, and the need to make efforts to stop the transmission on urgent basis in Pakistan,” the statement quoted Shahnaz Wazir Ali, the PM’s focal person on polio eradication, as saying.

Although, it said, the virus had not infected any child in Egypt and the country remained polio-free since 2004, the Egyptian ministry of health had ordered immediate vaccination of all children aged below five years in the localities near Cairo from where the Pakistan-origin virus was discovered.

“Dr Ahmed Omar, of the ministry of health and population in Egypt, has stated that the ministry will start a campaign to vaccinate children under-five against polio in Ezbet Hagana Peace and Kaliobeya in Cairo,” it said.

It said the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) recently had also recommended international travel restrictions for the three polio endemic countries under the International Health Regulations.

“The assessment of the IMB reflects the global concern over Pakistan and other polio endemic countries. However, regarding travel restrictions, it is understandable that every polio-free country would like to maintain its polio-free status and may consider taking steps to avoid importation of the virus,” the statement quoted the emergency coordinator for polio eradication at the WHO, Dr Elias Durry, as saying.

Pakistan took major strides last year with a 71 per cent reduction in the number of polio cases with all but 28 districts free of polio virus transmission. The recent security related incidents in different parts of the country have exposed children to risk of contracting polio, a disease that causes permanent paralysis in young children.

“Polio virus type 3 has not been found in Pakistan since April 2012, whereas environmental samples have been found mostly negative for the polio virus except for a few sites in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh,” said the statement.

“According to Unicef’s acting head of polio unit, Michael Coleman, it reinforces the urgent need for all caregivers across Pakistan to vaccinate children under five years of age against polio through the nearest health facility or through campaign vaccination teams. The country had reported 58 polio cases last year whereas this year, no polio case has been reported so far.”

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