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WHO puts shackles on Pakistan over polio

Updated May 06, 2014 08:05am


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CHAMAN: A health worker gives polio vaccine drops to a child going to Afghanistan in this border town on Monday.—INP
CHAMAN: A health worker gives polio vaccine drops to a child going to Afghanistan in this border town on Monday.—INP

ISLAMABAD: The inevitable has finally happened. To prevent the possible spread of the polio virus from Pakistan to other countries, the World Health Organisation (WHO) decided on Monday to impose strict travel restrictions on the country.

The decision was taken on the recommendation of the emergency committee of WHO, which had met on April 28 and suggested imposing travel restriction on Pakistan because of the continuous increase in polio cases in the country.

An official who works for WHO said that last year 60 per cent polio cases were a result of the international spread of the wild poliovirus. There was evidence that adult travellers contributed to this spread, he added.

Although polio only affects children, adults can be carriers of the disease.

The Minister of State for National Health Services, Saira Afzal Tarar, said that the government would try to address the concerns of the WHO so that by the next assessment (the decision will be reviewed in three months), the travel restrictions are reversed.

She said that the restrictions had been imposed on Syria and Cameroon along with Pakistan, while seven countries were warned to control the virus.

“I tried to avoid the ban by suggesting that the sanctions should be applicable on the Federally Administered Tribal Area, but the WHO said that it only dealt with international boundaries.”

Pakistan’s polio problem

The spread of polio in Pakistan has been a big worry for the past few years.

The virus strain of polio found in the country has affected as many as five countries over the past two years, becoming a serious threat to other countries.

Individual countries had already taken steps to stop the spread.

In February, India had banned the entry of travellers from Pakistan unless they had taken Oral Polio Vaccination (OPV) at least six week before the visit.

Saudi Arabia had back in 2000 made it mandatory that every Pakistani (children and adults) had taken OPV at the time of entry in that country.

Within Pakistan, each successive year has witnessed a higher number of children diagnosed with polio.

For example, in the first four months of the current year, 59 cases of polio have been recorded. The corresponding period last year witnessed only eight cases.

There is no single reason for the spread of the disease; the factors range from irrational fears to a limited campaign to militancy.

Many people appear to believe that the polio vaccine can cause fertility problems or that it is against Islam. The inefficacy of the drugs being used to vaccinate is also a problem as is the internal displacement due to which children have missed doses.

The problem was compounded by the killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 – Dr Shakil Afridi is seen to have helped traced Osama through a fake polio vaccination drive, which too prejudiced people against the campaign. And since the incident, the Taliban and other militants have also opposed the polio vaccination campaign more aggressively.

All these factors have ensured that the government efforts remain sketchy at best.

An official of the ministry of national health services said that despite all the efforts of the ministry to raise awareness about the Extended Programme of Immunisation (EPI) in December last year, 47,099 children were missed all over Pakistan because their parents refused the vaccination.

And the resistance by the militants can be gauged from the fact that 40 polio workers and security officials have been killed during polio campaigns.

WHO meeting

According to an official statement issued by WHO, the April meeting was attended by representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Israel, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.

Calling the spread of the disease an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk, the Emergency Committee of WHO said that “During 2014, international spread of wild poliovirus is being done from three of the 10 states that are currently infected. In central Asia, the virus is travelling from Pakistan to Afghanistan; in the Middle East it is travelling from Syria to Iraq and in central Africa it is travelling from Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea.”

It then recommended that “all residents and long-term visitors (less than four weeks) receive a dose of OPV or IPV between four weeks and 12 months prior to international travel”.

The meeting also pointed out that seven states – Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria – were infected with Wild Poliovirus, but they were not exporting the virus.

The WHO approved recommendations on Monday and decided to reassess the situation after three months.

Logistics to be worked out

It is already evident that is going to be a logistical nightmare to ensure Pakistani travellers have taken the drops before proceeding outside the country.

The government will not only have to set up a system of administering the vaccination but also issue a certificate. In addition, it will have to ensure that this facility is available to all those who use different exit points across the country.

Not everyone is convinced that the government has the resources to do this.

Dr Waseem Khawaja, a health expert, said that it would not be easy for already overburdened government hospitals to issue polio vaccination certificates to travellers. “Additional human resources and counters will be required.”

He pointed out that a majority of travellers, especially those going to the Middle East, would have to be educated and informed about the issue.

The health minister explained that she had called a meeting on Wednesday to formulate a strategy to deal with the travel ban.

“Certificates of polio vaccination will be issued from every hospital. We will also try to make arrangements to give the vaccine to people at airports as they are proceeding abroad. I am trying my best to ensure that no fee is charged for these polio certificates,” she said.

According to the minister, the restrictions would be implemented as soon as possible but not on those who had already reserved their seats.

She said that the government would try to start polio vaccination in Fata.

Meanwhile, Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam said that Pakistan was in contact with WHO over the travel restriction.


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Comments (30) Closed

M K Sufi May 06, 2014 08:02am

The person on guard duty should not be a model, to a photo session. He should be out side the room and be vigilant. The picture gives an impression that the infant is being administered polio drops under forced. We are so much much obsessed with security that we don't know what love and affection is. Childhood is a very impressionable. age. Let a child live in innocence.

Sodomite May 06, 2014 08:30am

About time too. At least if you want to go out of the country, polio vaccination and Islam will no longer be in conflict.

Farhan May 06, 2014 08:51am

@M K Sufi The picture shows a health worker administering drops to a child, while a soldier guards them from terrorists.

That is the situation of the day unfortunately. The "impression" is only in your mind. Anti-polio teams are under threat, which is why the military is guarding them. Also, where is this "room" that you speak of?

These days soldiers are under the constant criticism from self-appointed experts and opinion makers, and at the same time they are defending these same people from the barbarians - so much for gratitude.

I wish the Army could as a whole take a 1-month hiatus.

Tower May 06, 2014 08:57am

So what's the logic of not giving vaccines? It's ok to use western medicine, western mode of transport, western mode of communication, western firearms, nuclear weapons but not polio vaccine?

khan May 06, 2014 08:59am

Conspiracy to defame Pakistan. Our gov needs to protest

n b May 06, 2014 08:59am

WHO report has mentioned many countries, not Pakistan alone. Again, in some of these countries the girls education system is attacked. I request all rational minded persons to help in restoring balance in these areas.

Rizwan Alam May 06, 2014 09:00am

All generals who came to save Pakistan could not save this country from polio virus.

Ahmer May 06, 2014 09:00am

The real motive behind this ban is to isolate the Muslims from the world. India is full of far more serious diseases. Why is there no ban on their travel?

A Dejected Pakistani May 06, 2014 09:24am

Every child that leaves KPK or Baluchistan and entering Sindh or Punjab must be vaccinated on inter-provincial health check posts. The families migrating from these two provinces are causing spread of polio virus in Sind, especially Karachi, and Punjab.

M, Ahmed May 06, 2014 09:25am

seal off the polio infected areas and let it spread to atleast 2 generations, then the people rejecting vaccination will see how important the vaccination is

Khan May 06, 2014 09:25am

Make sure anybody moving out of KPK should be administered polio drops and those settled in other provinces should by force be given polio drops and in case of refusal be sent back to KPK

Omar May 06, 2014 09:56am

WHO has imposed travel restrictions on Pakistani travelers who already have a lot of restrictions. The virus is spread in Afghanistan from Pakistan? What was the means of travel from Pakistan to Afghanistan? Pakistanis travel more to other countries than Afghanistan other than the border areas. It is surprising to see that only country affected by Pakistan is Afghanistan and none of the countries in the world.

I would like to see the authenticity of this report by WHO? How did they come to know that it is spreading through Pakistan? If they mean is the travelers going through border areas than it is a erroneous analysis. Other than that the restrictions should be applied for Afghanistan only as virus is being spread in Afghanistan only.

tahir May 06, 2014 10:13am

A question..

Just how is the "Wild Polio" virus different from a 'tame' polio virus?

Siddharth May 06, 2014 11:23am

What a shame.

Zak May 06, 2014 12:31pm

The one who caused this is the CIA and the traitor Dr Afridi. They have left after Their selfish actions but Pakistan's children, some not even born when the vile scheme was used, are paying the price and will do for years to come.

Tariq Rizwan May 06, 2014 01:39pm

All this is happening due to misuse of Polio by CIA - Dr Shakil Afridi to trace Usama Bin Ladin. Extremists are bent upon destroying Polio offices / killing staff only and only due to this reason. All dirt is due to US/West.

ROHIT PANDEY May 06, 2014 02:28pm

And,Pakistan was created to safeguard the rights and welfare of Muslims in the subcontinent?:):)

Ah,well absurdities are part of human history,I guess?:):):)

Hope this "anti polio" winds just blow over and sanity returns to Pakistan!!

Fouad May 06, 2014 03:18pm

@Rizwan Alam neither could the great democrats

Tower May 06, 2014 03:53pm

@khan glad u said that..... Can u explain your point? How and why? What will conspirators gain by ensuring that future generation of Pakistan is polio free? Am eager to hear from u Khan

Tower May 06, 2014 03:54pm

@Ahmer could you name some diseases that are prevalent in India that should bar travel

Tower May 06, 2014 03:56pm

@Omar typical case of turning a blind eye to your own faults and blaming others .... If u want to look for authenticity then calculate the incidence of new polio out breaks in Pakistan and then see

Tower May 06, 2014 04:00pm

@Zak glad u made a comment I am sure you would have the answer as to why polio drops are considered a bane in Pakistan. Help me understand that. What has CIA or Afridi got to do with that. If one person can destroy the whole healthcare system ..... Then who is weak? Even if Afridi was a CIA agent and tracking down OBL then why is polio campaign being maligned? It only proves that common sense is not so common after all

Pakistani Reader May 06, 2014 04:11pm

Really !!We should learn from india how they become polio free & soon poverty free only 11.8% of indian are poor just surprised how india had pull out of millions of poor just in a decade.

Moin May 06, 2014 05:38pm

One the important reasons for spread of polio that the writer fails to mention is the general ignorance or lack of rational/scientific aptitude amongst the elites. By that I mean policy makers, administrators, powerful or influential people, and of course media people too. The other reason is misplaced pride. In the case of polio what is at stake is the health and future of our children. However, if you let "nationalistic" pride, false sense of prestige and security, come in the way of your judgement, it is our children who suffer. Unfortunately, for us Pakistanis, it seems that it is more important to protect our valour, honor and other nonsense than secure our children's healthy future. The writer deliberately chose to obfuscate and not include information that explicitly implicates Pakistan as a source of the Wild Polio strain. The strains found in Syria (in infected humans) and Israel (in their system) are from Pakistan. Anyone interested in knowing more should read the original WHO report. Of course, first of all, you have to trust that the rest of the world is not out to "get" Pakistan. Think of our children - all our human children, not just Pakistani. Or, have we lost our humanity and sense of balance and objectivity?

Moin May 06, 2014 05:47pm

@tahir Good question, Tahir. Please see this ink to learn more: I wish more people asked questions like you do -- to learn more -- rather than get emotional or exhibit misplaced patriotism. I wish media, government, NGOs had more aggressive educational campaigns. I wish our children did not have to suffer just because their elders are cynical, suspicious, paranoid, ignorant, willfully blind, etc....

Adventurer May 06, 2014 06:01pm

@M K Sufi

Tomorrow when the child is inflicted with polio - then who is suffering - saving the child is love n affection - be matured.

K May 06, 2014 08:18pm

Just don't know when our people will grow up...and I see many stupid comments already calling it a conspiracy against our country...actually that mindset they represent is real conspiracy...

Solution in my view is more and more campaign on TV & print media, show this nation how deadly this virus is...I am sure if they know the risk they will get their children vaccinated, I know because I have seen polio in my family and trust me it is very very lethal, may be worse than cancer

Ahmer May 06, 2014 09:14pm

Clearly a deliberate conspiracy to isolate Pakistan from the world. The moment one or two passengers are caught traveling on fake polio certificates which is inevitable in such a large country, the ban will become fully restrictive and that seems to be the ultimate aim of WHO.

M K Sufi May 06, 2014 10:29pm

@Farhan why should the security person stand so close to the infant, who is being administered polio drops. If it is an open place, all the more reason to be watching around.Can't the job be done, in a room or a tent with security provided, covering the immediate area. Terrorists have no morality and are propagating against governments efforts to eradicate polio. One has to act intelligently.and not emotionally.

Anusha May 07, 2014 02:20am

@Khan Where does it say the virus is present in KPK? It says FATA. Is FATA KPK? I am Indian and I know it isn't. FATA is one of the most neglected places in the world mind you. Polio has probably existed there for years but has only now garnered the attention of the government due to the mass displacement. But I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't know that considering how stupid you sound. I'd love to see the look on your face once KPK FATA GB and Balochistan separate and you people are left at the mecy of us.