KARACHI: The World Health Organisation on Monday recommended strict travel restrictions on Pakistan due to the rising number of polio cases in the country.
The WHO said the spread of polio is an international public health emergency that threatens to infect other countries with the crippling disease.
The public health arm of the United Nations, issued its new guidelines to fight the disease, recommending Pakistanis traveling abroad should present a polio vaccination certificate.
The WHO also recommended similar restrictions on Syria and Cameroon — two other countries where the disease was previously said to have been eradicated but have recently been known to have been exporting the potentially disease.
Pakistan is one of only three countries where the crippling virus is endemic. The other two countries are Nigeria and Afghanistan.
In an announcement today, the agency described the ongoing polio outbreaks in Asia, Africa and the Middle East as an ''extraordinary'' situation requiring a coordinated international response.
States currently exporting wild polio virus
In a statement, the WHO said Pakistan, Cameroon, and the Syrian Arab Republic pose the greatest risk of further wild poliovirus exportations in 2014. The WHO recommended:
“These States should:
officially declare, if not already done, at the level of head of state or government, that the interruption of poliovirus transmission is a national public health emergency;
ensure that all residents and long-term visitors (i.e. > 4 weeks) receive a dose of OPV or inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) between 4 weeks and 12 months prior to international travel;
ensure that those undertaking urgent travel (i.e. within 4 weeks), who have not received a dose of OPV or IPV in the previous 4 weeks to 12 months, receive a dose of polio vaccine at least by the time of departure as this will still provide benefit, particularly for frequent travelers;
ensure that such travelers are provided with an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis in the form specified in Annex 6 of the International Health Regulations (2005) to record their polio vaccination and serve as proof of vaccination;
maintain these measures until the following criteria have been met: (i) at least 6 months have passed without new exportations and (ii) there is documentation of full application of high quality eradication activities in all infected and high risk areas; in the absence of such documentation these measures should be maintained until at least 12 months have passed without new exportations.”
“Once a State has met the criteria to be assessed as no longer exporting wild poliovirus, it should continue to be considered as an infected State until such time as it has met the criteria to be removed from that category,” added the WHO statement.
Polio usually strikes children under five and is usually spread via infected water. There is no specific treatment or cure, but several vaccines exist.
Experts are particularly concerned the virus continues to pop up in countries previously free of the disease, such as Syria, Somalia and Iraq — where civil war or unrest complicates efforts to contain the virus.
Some critics say the rapid spread of polio could unravel the nearly three-decade effort to eradicate it.