LAHORE: People traveling to Punjab from other provinces of Pakistan will now have to present polio vaccination certificates.
Health Adviser to Punjab Chief Minister Khwaja Salman Rafique told DawnNews on Tuesday that, after polio cases recently surfaced in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there was a risk of the crippling virus traveling into Punjab.
Rafique said that polio vaccination counters would be set up at all airports in Punjab within the next two days. He said that those who refuse to be administered polio drops will not be allowed to enter the province without showing polio vaccination certificates.
Polio vaccination teams aided by the police will be posted at 41 entry points from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab and all entrances from Sindh at the border in Rahim Yar Khan.
All children entering the province will be administered polio drops if they do not show vaccination certificates.
The Punjab government's decision comes a day after the World Health Organisation imposed strict travel restrictions on Pakistan, Syria and Cameroon, warning that the crippling disease has re-emerged as a public health emergency.
The virus currently affects 10 countries worldwide and is endemic in three countries including Pakistan.
Earlier today, the federal health ministry announced that it was setting up mandatory polio immunisation points at all international airports in the country in response to the WHO’s recommendations.
“Special measures will include establishing mandatory immunisation counters on all airports, border crossings and seaports for all travellers,” said ministry spokesman Sajid Ali Shah.
Zardari urges WHO to review decision
Meanwhile, former president and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari expressed concern over the travel restrictions and requested the WHO to review its decision.
“The imposition of travel ban will only increase Pakistan’s isolation and not advance the global fight against polio,” said Zardari in a statement today.
The former president called upon the authorities in the federal and provincial governments to step up efforts to contain the spread of polio, and to use an iron fist against militants opposing polio vaccinations.
The polio spread has been caused in no small measure by the armed opposition to it by bigots, he said.
“The travel ban resulting in increasing our isolation should serve to remind everyone that the policy of appeasing militants will cost the country dearly,” he said.
“Militants opposing polio vaccination want to incapacitate the future generations and we owe it to our children to root out the extremists and militants before it is too late,” he urged.
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 had 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.