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Polio scare: Saudi demand spurs action

June 21, 2013

ISLAMABAD, June 20: Federal health officials met here on Thursday to plan the big task of vaccinating against polio each one of the estimated 156,000 pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia to perform Haj this year.

“Foolproof arrangements must be made at all the Haji camps and airports in the country for vaccinating the intending pilgrims against polio and meningitis,” State Minister Saira Afzal Tarar told the meeting convened at the Ministry of National Health Services to satisfy Saudi Arabias demand about the vaccination.

“We want to avert Saudi health officials’ anger as any discovery of polio virus during Haj will land Pakistan in serious trouble and the country may even face traveling restrictions,” a source in the ministry told Dawn after the meeting.

Millions of Muslims from around the world perform Haj, which falls in October this year.

Deadly attacks on polio vaccinators by extremists and new polio cases in Pakistan in recent months scared the world and earned the country a bad name.

In December 2012, Egyptian health authorities discovered polio virus in sewage samples collected in Cairo.

According to a health official in Islamabad, the genetic analysis of the samples indicated the virus had similarities with the one discovered in Pakistan in September the same year.