ISLAMABAD: Pakistan will set up mandatory polio immunisation points at its international airports in response to recommendations by the World Health Organisation, the health ministry said Tuesday.
The WHO warned Monday that the crippling disease has re-emerged as a public health emergency, with the virus currently affecting 10 countries worldwide and endemic in three including Pakistan.
“Special measures will include establishing mandatory immunisation counters on all airports, border crossings and seaports for all travellers,” said ministry spokesman Sajid Ali Shah.
The WHO had called on Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria, seen as posing the greatest risk of exporting wild poliovirus, to ensure all residents and long-term visitors receive a polio vaccine between four weeks and a year before travelling abroad.
For urgent travel, at least one vaccine dose should be given before departure, according to the emergency committee, which also called for all travellers to be given certificates proving they have been immunised.
Shah could not confirm whether long-term non-Pakistani residents would also be subject to immunisation under the new initiative.
“That will be decided in a meeting scheduled soon,” he said.
According to the WHO, Pakistan recorded 91 cases of polio last year, up from 58 in 2012. It has also recorded 59 of the world's 74 cases this year.
The disease has re-emerged in Pakistan because the Taliban and other militants violently oppose inoculation campaigns and because of public fears that the vaccine leads to infertility.
Militants see the polio campaign as a cover for foreign spying and regularly attack immunisation teams, killing some 56 people since December 2012.
Their opposition has increased since a Pakistani doctor Dr Shakil Afridi helped track down terror chief Osama bin Laden in 2011 using a fake vaccine project.
Last month officials announced they would begin administering polio drops to children at security checkpoints in the country's lawless tribal belt.
India, which recently celebrated the eradication of the disease, announced in December it would require Pakistanis to obtain vaccination certificates six weeks before cross-border travel.
The government has decided to call a meeting of the provincial health ministers and health secretaries on Wednesday to discuss a strategy for eradication of polio across the country.
Govt summons meeting tomorrow to discuss eradication of polio
This was announced by State Minister for Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Saira Afzal Tarar in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
Commenting on a calling attention notice, the Minister said that the recent decision of the World Health Organization (WHO) to impose travel restrictions on Pakistani travelers was a matter of concern for the Pakistani nation.
Tarar said that the WHO did not take this decision within a day because their representatives had already raised the issue with the government of Pakistan in September 2013.
She said that the decision of the WHO would strengthen those powers who want to see a vulnerable Pakistan in its strategy to eradicate polio.
She said it was alarming that out of 59 polio cases, 40 cases were reported from North Waziristan in 2014.
“Not a single case was reported from Punjab and Balochistan province in 2014,” she added.
The State Minister said that the accessibility of polio teams in the conflict areas like the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) was a major hurdle for the government to counter polio in Pakistan.
Tarar informed the National Assembly that the federal and provincial governments would prepare a strategy during its meeting on Wednesday while the government would also utilise all available resources to counter polio across the country.
She also said that the WHO did not give any deadline regarding travel restrictions on Pakistani travelers as yet.
Earlier, MNA Asiya Nasir expressed her concerns regarding the recommendations of WHO to ban traveling of Pakistanis abroad due to increasing cases of polio in the country.